Star Tribune: Looking for books that reflect diverse students, Minnesota teachers publish their own

Teachers and librarians say they want students to see themselves in books.

Educators at several St. Paul schools with large Hmong populations struggled to find materials in their own language and with portrayals of Hmong culture and history.

So May Lee Xiong and Bounthavy Kiatoukaysy of Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet School began writing their own and having them published by St. Paul Public Schools. “Zab and Txiv Huab Tais” is about a trickster and a king. “Noj Mov Tshaav Puam” depicts what people eat at a Hmong market — purple sticky rice, deep fried chicken, papaya salad; it is a version of a traditional American book with pizza and ice cream.

“There is a huge need within that area of instruction,” said Xiong, a dual immersion coach. “Within the Hmong community there is not a ton of materials, especially for little kids.” ...

The St. Paul Public Library took the unusual step several years ago of publishing books that catered to the growing number of Karen refugees, a persecuted ethnic minority from Myanmar, formerly Burma, that came to storytime programs. Karen authors in St. Paul, Win World and Saw Powder, wrote “The Elephant Huggy” and “The Hen and the Badger” in Karen and English. The library followed with “Teach Me to Love,” a children’s book about adult and baby animals by Denise Brennan-Nelson written in the Ethiopian languages of Oromo and Amharic.