The Mindy Kim series by Lyla Lee (illustrated by Dung Ho; Aladdin 2020) highlights a Korean-American girl in a new home with her recently widowed father. I never read books about different cultures when I was young, and so I’m delighted that this early chapter book series introduces such an enjoyable character with a unique background for my young early reader to enjoy. We read the first few aloud together, and I anticipate my daughter will want to keep read her stories (especially when she gains the confidence to read them on her own).
In the first book in the series, Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business, our fearless hero overcomes her shyness about her new (not diverse) school by sharing her seaweed snack, which is foreign and different to her new classmates. Of course, she gets in trouble when she starts asking kids to swap their snacks for her snack! The book shared the feeling of “difference” that kids from a minority might feel in school. Beyond that, her story is relatable to any child who ever feels out of place and nervous about a new situation.
In the next book, Mindy Kim and the Lunar New Year Parade, Mindy invites her friend to join her at the parade, where they get separated from their grown-up! The Lunar New Year traditions that were detailed introduced my daughter to the holiday that is somewhat foreign to her, as well as highlighting that the various Asian traditions are different, even though they all celebrate the Lunar New Year. To clarify, in the book, Mindy waits throughout the day for a Korean-specific group to appear in the parade or in the show, and she is disappointed when none do. She and her family and friends were able to go home and celebrate Korean style at home, instead.
Although I haven’t read all of the books, other books in the series include relatable kid-experiences. One shares Mindy’s struggles and joys as she gets a new puppy, another highlights her trip to Korea to visit family. In addition, she takes swim lessons, celebrates another festival, and runs for class president. In later books, her father will get married and she’ll get a new sibling! Although not all of these are as “culture-specific” as the Lunar New Year Parade book I read, I did appreciate how the culture is still mentioned as a natural part of Mindy’s life, of course! (I’m personally eager to see how Mindy’s trip to Korea goes!)
If I have any complaint it is that the loss of Mindy’s mother is glossed over throughout the series, and by the second book her father has a girlfriend, which seems strange given the certain distress this would have caused a child who lost her mother just a year before. Given the age to which the book is geared, I can overlook this fact, especially in the hopes that such a backstory would not “trigger” children in similar motherless situations.
My eight-year-old daughter says she likes the books because they are fun. That they are a window into a different culture is just a bonus for this early chapter book series.