This celebration of self-worth was written during the COVID-19 pandemic and what New York Times bestselling author Eve Chen describes as "a meteoric rise in anti-Asian sentiment." She feared for her parents' safety, even telling them to wear sunglasses, hats, and scarves so that people couldn't tell they were Asian. She wrote the book in gratitude for her parents' strength and "as a wish for my children, so that they could understand their magic and power."
Narrated from the perspective of parents, I Am Golden addresses a girl named Mei, which means beautiful in Chinese. It gently calls forward who she is, asking what she sees when she looks in the mirror, then expressing what her parents see:
"We see eyes that point toward the sun, that give us the warmth and joy of a thousand rays when you smile. ... We see skin brushed with gold."
Illustrator Sophie Diao — the daughter of Chinese immigrants who found her experience to be very similar to Mei's — sensitively uses Eve Chen's own family photos as guides for her pictures of Mei's ancestors. She captures an extraordinary range of experience in single illustrations. For instance, when Mei stretches her arms "ta-da!" style amid blazing advertising signs in a big city downtown, flanked by her parents with uncertain looks on their faces, we understand how the parents call Mei "our teacher and translator," a trailblazer. But the reflections of the three in the street's shiny surface shows slightly different body postures and dimensions of their feelings, suggesting the complexity that's beneath appearances.
The book does not shy away from difficulties. We see Mei surrounded by shadowy silhouettes pointing fingers her way, as her parents admit that they know how alone she feels sometimes and how people point out that she's different. But they promise "there is power in being different," and they draw out this difference in distinctly Asian imagery: a lotus flower unfurling, dragons, jade rabbits, "the first bamboo stalk, piercing the soil, that will overtake the sky," and more. Emphasis falls on the strength of family and ancestral ties: shared food, stories, hopes and dreams.
Written for children ages four to six, I Am Golden would make a thoughtful gift to a child with Asian roots, especially those with Chinese heritage. It also provides children of any race with a multitude of reasons to respect and get to know Asian Americans they meet. As a wish for all children, Chen writes, "May they understand their strength, may they understand their family history in all its unique beauty, and may they know that they are truly golden."