Podcast: Maia, Alex Shibutani work to increase diversity in children's books

Podcast: Maia, Alex Shibutani work to increase diversity in children's books
Posted at 1:50 PM, Dec 08, 2021

U.S. ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani have been breaking barriers for years. In 2018, the Shib Sibs became the first duo of Asian descent to win an Olympic medal in ice dancing and the first siblings to win an Olympic medal for the United States. Their latest bit of trailblazing is taking place off the ice though.

Children's books have historically been lacking in multicultural representation, so Maia and Alex have been working to tackle that issue by publishing their own book. In the return of the "My New Favorite Olympian" podcast, the sibling duo discussed how it all came about.

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During their ice dance careers, Maia and Alex have frequently been the only sibling ice dance team and/or the only ice dance team of Asian descent at a lot of the competitions they've attended. And just as there was no one else like them in the ice dancing world, there was also no one else like them in the books they read growing up.

"We read 'Harry Potter' and we read a bunch of different types of fiction and nonfiction, sports autobiographies and stuff," Alex said. "But there wasn't a contemporary story for middle-grade young readers that featured Asian-American kids doing fun and exciting things and solving mysteries and being heroes."

Maia and Alex decided to do a book, but because they felt that it was too soon to write an autobiography — despite plenty of requests from publishers — they zeroed in on the idea of doing something for middle graders. The result was a book called "Kudo Kids: The Mystery of the Masked Medalist," which they released in 2020.

The book tells the story of Japanese American siblings Andy and Mika who travel to the Tokyo Olympics on a hunt for virtual medals when an evil masked villain tries to sabotage their adventure. The Shibutani Siblings hope that books like this can help Asian American children see themselves represented in an authentic light.

"For so many underrepresented communities," Maia said, "right now is a really special time where there's finally new material — whether it's books, movies, television shows — where people are finally feeling like they can see something that matches their own experience or perspective."

For the full story, listen to the podcast above. "My New Favorite Olympian" is the fourth season of the Sports Uncovered podcast from NBC Sports. New episodes drop every Wednesday and will introduce you to the most inspiring members of Team USA and the issues they champion. The series is hosted by eight-time Winter Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo.