YOU ARE LIFE by Bao Phi and Hannah Li

Cover of YOU ARE LIFE, showing an Asian child in the center with a phoenix, rainbow, and dragon arching over her. Behind her is a sunrise with a rocketship and a lighthouse beyond a body of water. In the foreground are an artist easel, a cat, elephant, tortoise, sheet music, and plants.

I am a huge fan of Bao Phi’s work. His debut picture book, A Different Pond, won the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Award, a Caldecott Honor for illustrator Thi Bui’s amazing artwork, as well as many other accolades. It was also a mentor text for my own picture book, Watercress. So I’m really excited to share his newest picture book with you.

An illustration of an adult’s hand and a child’s hand reaching toward each other. In the background, there is a beach with rocks, a lighthouse on a cliff, and paper boats in the ocean at dawn.

You Are Life is a poem — a lyrical ode to Asian American children showing them all the things they are and are not. The things that Phi says they are not hit me like a gut punch. “You are not a virus,” one page begins. “You are not an invader,” starts another. “You are not forever foreign,” yet another reads. I have been called all these things and made to feel other all my life, so to say that this book resonated with me is an understatement. Phi deftly turns these stereotypes and insults around, reassuring the reader that they are wanted, they are seen, and they are loved.

Illustration of man and child in a vegetable garden. A fence, tree, bird and dragonflies are in the background. The child is handing the man a flower.

In his author’s note, Phi writes about how anti-Asian hate crimes were suddenly thrust into the limelight due to the pandemic. He says, “Unfortunately, many Americans, of many different races, did not understand that racism against Asians is something that exists, so there was an erasure of our experience to go along with the violence. During that time, as a father to an Asian American child, there were so many emotions surging through me: anger, sadness, fear, resentment, exhaustion.”

I felt all those things, too, especially when people I knew expressed shock over anti-Asian violence because they had no idea it had happened before, had been happening all along, ever since Asians first landed or were brought to this continent. I blame the absence of Asian American history being taught in schools.

An illustration of two sets of parents playing with their children outside. On the right, an Asian child soars into the air over the outstretched arms of her two fathers, waiting to catch her.

Amid all these negative emotions, Phi felt something else, “…a glimmer of wanting to offer something hopeful, something that said, yes, this happened to us, we must mark this history. At the same time, we must celebrate our lives…life in the multitudes of how we exist, outside the boxes that we are all squeezed into. And so, this poem to young children came into being.”

Illustration of a diverse crowd of people holding signs and marching.

I really appreciate how the book is both a stark reminder of what Asian American are still going through during the pandemic and a celebration of what Asian American children are and can be. “You can do anything,” Phi writes. And later, “You are not invisible. / You are not silent.” They can be singers of K-pop songs, builders of blanket forts, artists and storytellers. Hannah Li’s bright and cheerful illustrations show Asian Americans of every shade, having fun, dreaming, and “marching together in the street for a more just world.”

This book is so much more than a poem. It is an anthem, a call to action, an inspiring and hope-giving hug. You can find educator resources and a special preview of You Are Life here, Bao Phi’s website here, and Hannah Li’s website here.

Bao Phi is an award-winning poet and children’s book author. His stunning debut picture book with illustrator Thi But, A Different Pond, won a Caldecott Honor, a Charlotte Zolotow Award, an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, an Ezra Jack Keats Honor, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, and numerous other awards and accolades. You Are Life is his fourth picture book. Bao is a single co-parent father, an arts administrator, and a book nerd.

Hannah Li is a New York-based illustrator from China. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design and creates illustrations for publishers, newspapers, and magazines such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Harper’s Bazaar. Hannah’s work has been recognized by the Red Dot Award, Communication Arts, American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, 3×3, and many more.

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.

10 Comments:

  1. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    This looks amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  2. This looks powerful, moving, and joyous. I look forward to reading and sharing it!

  3. Looking forward to this one too! Thanks for sharing, Andrea!

  4. What an affirming and beautiful book. Thank you Andrea.

  5. The book looks beautiful and needed! Thanks for sharing this title.

  6. I cannot wait to read this book.

  7. Such a lovely, tender book!

  8. This is stunning and I can’t wait to read it.

  9. This book looks gorgeous and needed. Thank you for sharing about it!

  10. Thanks for a terrific review Andrea. I’ll be gifting this special book.

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