Frequently burning the midnight oil with a mug of coffee, Thien-Kim Lam is a mother, business owner and general crafty gal. As a first generation Vietnamese-American born and raised in Louisiana, she’s fielded more than her share of racial questions, especially now that she’s the mother of two half Vietnamese, half African-American children. Her blog I’m Not the Nanny began as a place to vent her frustration over the public’s perceptions and assumption over her children’s race. Now, it has has become a resource for parents who want to celebrate their children’s multicultural heritage. She was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s also been featured on the Washington Post. She loves trying out the latest gadgets and finds time to create new recipes to test on her family. Somewhere in between her kids, her husband, and her writing she manages to squeeze in some art, some books, and long hot bubble baths. And lots of coffee!
Why is it so important for you to raise a globally-minded child?
As the child of Vietnamese immigrants, I’ve always been acutely aware of my differences among our small, rural Louisiana town. Instead of embracing who I was, I tried to become like everyone else. By consciously raising globally-minded children, I’m telling them that everyone’s stories are important. Teaching them to about other families’ and countries’ culture, religion, and foods, allows them to appreciate all of our differences.
We love your focus on multicultural books. What do you look for in multicultural books?
My search for multicultural books started when my daughter was born almost 9 years ago. Growing up, I know firsthand how difficult it was to find books that I could identify with. I started to look for picture books that represent both mine and my husband’s cultures: Asian American and African American cultures. The best I could find at my local library were books about slavery and the Vietnamese immigrant/war experiences.
I realized if I had this much trouble finding multicultural books that represented our family, that others would too. The multicultural books I feature on I’m Not the Nanny depicts diverse and multicultural stories that depict everyday life. I tend to stay away from global folk and fairy tales because I want my readers to see books that represent America as the melting pot it claims to be. The characters’ race or cultural shouldn’t be the only thing that drives the plot. I also have a soft spot for books featuring biracial characters, since my children are biracial.
Which books have your kids loved best?
My 8-year-old daughter is a voracious reader but her current favorites are the Spirit Animal series, Dork Diaries, and Pokemon graphic novels. She’s recently gotten into The Royal Diary series, which I featured in my Diverse Chapter Book Series list. My 4-year-old son’s (current) favorite series are the Scaredy Squirrel books. As you can see, my kids read many different types of books, but I make sure they read a wide range of books–not just multicultural books.
What kind of books do you hope to see in the future?
I want to see stories of multicultural families and experiences that are not dependent on immigration or the struggle balancing western culture with non-western cultures. While those types of stories are important and should be chronicled, my children and their children are not immigrants nor do they worry how to fit in both their Asian American and African American heritage with their “American” selves. The sum of their parts is an ongoing evolution of American history and culture. They are simply American and we need books to present the many facets of American life.
What is your best tip on engaging your kids with multicultural books?
What’s most important is to find books that kids love to read. It’s not about the characters’ skin colors or ethnic background, but about the story. If the story is well written and captivating, then kids can’t help but engage in the story. Learn the types of stories your children like, and offer help them find those types of stories that have diverse characters. Follow their lead and guide them.