Asian American and Pacific Islander Books

For years I have lamented the lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in children’s books. FINALLY we are starting to see some standout stories starring AAPI characters. Don’t get me wrong; we still have a long way to go, but I am thrilled to share with you this list of engaging books with tons of kid appeal that are not only perfect to share during AAPI Heritage Month (May), but ALL YEAR LONG!

The AAPI community is quite diverse consisting of approximately 50 ethnic groups. I have done my best to create an inclusive list of books that represent the stories my children and I cannot get enough of.  I recognize that the books here may not include everyone who identifies as an Asian American and Pacific Islander, so I will continue adding to this list as I discover more books and I welcome your recommendations.

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A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin, 2018

(Ages 3 and up)

You will never look at the moon the same way after reading this enchanting story. A Big Mooncake for Little Star mixes in elements of fantasy and Chinese culture to create a charming story of Little Star, who wakes each night to nibble away at the giant mooncake she and her mother baked together. With each bite, children will begin to see the various phases of the moon. This whimsical story is simply delightful and makes for a wonderful book for bedtime. Just in case you need one more reason to read this outstanding book, it also won a Caldecott Honor for its unique artwork.

We also love the companion book A Big Bed for Little Snow.

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Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho; illustrated by Dung Ho, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

This impactful story uses exquisitely descriptive language to share how the shape of a girl’s eyes is one of her favorite family traits that define her in the best way. Radiant illustrations highlight the poetic text bringing in elements of whimsy as the girl describes aspects of her culture. The girl’s self-confidence is infectious and the empowering text celebrating heritage and family paired with the luscious illustrations makes this book a real standout.

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Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani; illustrated by Holly Hatam, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

The unconditional love between a father and daughter is palpable in this sweet story. Whether the papa is tenderly putting his daughter’s hair in braids or she is adoringly passing him hair accessories, it is clear that taking care of their long locks is an important tradition to their family. This cheerful tale further provides a window into the Sikh tradition of patkas and ends with a touching author’s note stating how the story is inspired by her own family.

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Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang; illustrated by Charlene Chua, 2019

(Ages 4 and up)

Amy Wu is one of our favorite new characters! We just adore her exuberant and resilient attitude. In Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, Amy is determined to make the flawless bao like the rest of her family. Even after being disappointed at many failed attempts, she never gives up and finds a solution that allows her to make the perfect bao her own way. There is even a recipe for bao for little chefs to try!     Buy It Here

In Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon (2020), Amy is excited about a new class project to create dragons. When her friends question her Chinese dragon, however, she begins to doubt herself. Feeling miserable, she returns home where her grandmother regales her with stories featuring wise dragons with special powers who can even fly without wings. Feeling newly inspired by her Chinese heritage, she pulls out a dragon costume and makes it her own. When she presents it to her class, they cheer and relish in learning about her culture. Buy It Here

With its bright colors and uplifting storylines about staying true to yourself, there is a lot to love about these books! We hope to see more adventures from Amy Wu!

 

My Tree by Hope Lim; illustrations by Il Sung, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

My Tree stars a young Korean immigrant who finds a special connection with a tree in his backyard that he names Plumee. He waters her, plays with her, and escapes to her branches when he needs a place of solace. One fateful night, Plumee is blown down during a storm. When she is hauled away, everything feels different. In remembrance of his old friend, the boy plants another tree that he nurtures.

This heartfelt story touches upon themes of loss, healing, and the comfort that can be found in nature. With its soft color pallet, the striking illustrations are a real showstopper drawing readers into this tender tale.

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Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth ; illustrated by Priscilla Burris, 2018

(Ages 4 and up)

Natsumi! might be a little girl, but she has a big personality. With cries of “Not so fast, not so hard, not so loud!” her family does not always appreciate Natsumi’s active disposition. Her grandfather is the only one who embraces her exuberance and finds a way to nurture it in a way that makes the whole family happy.

This sweet story of individuality and acceptance also gives children a wonderful peek into Japanese culture highlighting a traditional tea ceremony, dance, food, and music.

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When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterline; illustrated by Aaron Asis, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

This heartwarming story uses beautifully descriptive language to capture the essence of summer through a young girl’s nose. Whether it’s “gooey sunscreen and salt-soaked swimsuits at the beach” or “suman steaming on the stove”, each glorious scent is a connection with her grandmother who visits every summer from the Philippines. The beautiful illustrations use a soft pastel pallet that captures the tender tone of the story while the text evokes the magic found in childhood memories and in the joy of family. This one is a real standout!

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Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim; illustrated by Grace Zong, 2014

(Ages 4 and up)

In this clever twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldy is sent to the Chan family to deliver a plate of turnip cakes to celebrate the Chinese New Year. When the family of pandas is not home, Goldy eats their food, sits in their chairs, and falls asleep in their bed. Where the story excels is in Goldy’s response after she is caught. Upon returning home, she feels guilty for her rude actions and returns to the Chans the next day to make amends. An author’s note describing Chinese New Year traditions and a recipe for turnip cakes also enhances this fabulous fractured fairy tale.

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Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat, 2018

(Ages 5 and up)

This award-winning book is absolutely breathtaking! Stunning fantastical illustrations fill the pages of this moving story about a grandfather yearning to overcome a language barrier and connect with this grandson. This unique story is a must-read!

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Lift by Minh Le; illustrated by Dan Santat, 2020

(Ages 4 and up)

This imaginative story is full of wonder and awe. Iris loves pushing the elevator buttons in her apartment building until one day, her little brother steals her glory and pushes the button himself. After finding a discarded button in the trashcan of her lobby, Iris tapes it to her closet door and discovers that pushing the button brings her to a world full of imagination. With tons of eye-catching details from Caldecott winning illustrator, Dan Santat, children are going to want to reread this story multiple times and with its heartfelt ending, parents are going to love it just as much!

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Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand; illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, 2021

(Ages 5 and up)

This charming tale stars the endearing Laxmi who helps readers build a more positive self-image by celebrating body hair. Laxmi is shocked and embarrassed when her friends innocently suggest she should play a cat in their pretend game because she has tiny black hairs above her lip like whiskers. At home, her parents comfort her and explain how many women have a little mustache. Laxmi embraces her body hair and soon joyfully introduces mooches to her entire class. This subject is not covered in many books and readers with their own mooches will feel comforted and reassured by Laxmi and her self-confidence.

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A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram; illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, 2020

(Ages 4 and up)

Bright, colorful illustrations adorn the pages of this striking story of a girl searching for the perfect gift for her Amma. From saffron to peacock feathers, readers will love discovering the vibrant world of a busy market place in India. The story is enhanced with a glossary of items that appear in the market, information about markets around the world, and photographs of items featured in the book.

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‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis; illustrated by Kenard Pak, 2020

(Ages 4 and up)

Food is something that connects us all and in this lovely tribute to a special Hawaiian tradition, readers gain a better understanding of poi and kalo, staples in Hawaiian culture. The cumulative storyline, similar to the classic “The House That Jack Built”, begins with a family harvesting kalo to make poi for their lū’au. Each poetic line adds insight into the interconnected relationship between the land of Hawaii and its people, creating one touching read aloud.

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Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan; illustrated by Cindy Wume, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

In this delightful story, readers meet a family with ten sons, which is considered extremely lucky in Taiwanese culture. The engaging illustrations follow the boys through their childhood adventures until they become men and we meet the surprise narrator of the story, their sister, who was there all along! My kids absolutely adore this book and love pointing out the sister hidden on each page. They enjoyed the ending even more when the sister grew into her own. I especially appreciated the author’s note stating that this story is based on her father’s family.

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The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar; illustrated by Alea Marley, 2019

(Ages 4 and up)

Harpreet Singh loves expressing his emotions through his brightly colored patkas. Feeling sad about moving to a new home, he wears only the color white signifying his shyness. One kind act, however, turns his world around bringing the color back to his life. This charming story is not only a sweet lesson in empathy, but also a great introduction to Sikhism.

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Bindu’s Bindis by Supriya Kelkar; illustrated by Parvati Pillai, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

This sweet intergenerational story stars Bindu who finds a special connection with her grandmother through a shared love of their bindis. When Bindu wears her bindi to school, she suddenly grows embarrassed until her grandmother inspires her to wear it with pride. Filled with bright colors and expressive illustrations, readers will love following Bindu on her journey to embrace her culture and stay true to herself. An author’s note also provides additional information on bindis.

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Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim, 2020

(Ages 5 and up)

This beautifully illustrated story follows Danbi, a young South Korean girl, who bravely starts school in America. While each activity feels strange and different, she tries her best. At lunchtime, the other students are intrigued by her Korean lunch and she encourages them to try using her chopsticks. The students discover that while it is difficult to eat with the chopsticks, it is fun to make music with them. They soon band together in a parade through the school forming new friendships.

The real strength of this enchanting story is how it teaches children that by being themselves, they can find commonalities with others and form bonds that can even surpass language barriers. It also demonstrates the benefits of trying something new and learning from others that are different from you.

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A Different Pond by Bao Phi; illustrated by Thi Bui, 2017

(Ages 5 and up)

This enchanting story of a boy who wakes before dawn to fish with his father is a rare view into the lives of an immigrant Vietnamese family. The boy’s parents have to work several jobs and fish for their food. During these early morning fishing trips, the boy learns of his father’s childhood in Vietnam and the war that brought them to America. This multilayered coming-of-age story is poignant and powerful.

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Watercress by Andrea Wang; illustrated by Jason Chin, 2021

(Ages 6 and up)

This tender tale follows the daughter of Chinese immigrants who is humiliated that her parents stop on the side of the road to gather watercress to eat for dinner. That night, she refuses to eat the food. When her mother brings out a picture from her youth and shares the devastating loss her family experienced during a famine in China, the girl perceives the watercress with new insight. She joins her family for dinner and together they create a new, more hopeful memory of watercress.

This powerful multidimensional story touches on themes of immigration, family, feeling like an outsider, empathy, and hope for a better future. Inspired by her own childhood, Wang’s words are authentic and thought-provoking. This moving story is perfectly complimented by Jason Chin’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations that skillfully capture the emotions of the family and the beauty of the Midwest landscape.

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The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam, 2020

(Ages 8 and up)

Using her signature collage-style illustrations, Thao Lam beautifully shares her family’s refugee story of escaping from Vietnam and immigrating to Canada. An informative author’s note explains how her mother became lost while trying to reach the boat that would sail them away from Vietnam and was saved by a line of ants headed for the riverbed. The ants play an integral role in the story representing the refugees’ flight and the hardships they faced. This heartbreaking wordless wonder is better suited for older children who can appreciate the symbolism in the story.

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NONFICTION

Thao: A Picture Book by Thao Lam, 2021

(Ages 4 and up)

With her brilliant collage-style illustrations and quirky sense of humor, Thao Lam is one of my favorite author-illustrators. In this autobiographical picture book, Thao skillfully infuses charming text that both amuses and conveys the heartbreak when others misspell or mispronounce a name. Thao felt like such an outsider growing up, she wanted to change her name to Jennifer. When her mom packs her favorite Vietnamese lunch, however, she is reminded of the pride she feels in her culture and embraces her identity.

While the text is brief, the message is compelling. Names hold such power and it is extremely hurtful when others don’t take the time to learn how to say or spell someone’s name correctly. Thao’s story is one that many kids will relate to and that will build empathy and understanding for others.

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The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley; illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien, 2021

(Ages 5 and up)

My kids were astonished by this fascinating true story of a group of boys who built their own soccer field over water. Prasit Hemmin and his friends loved playing soccer, but because they lived on a fishing village built on stilts, there was very little dry land to play on. Inspired by their own village, they worked together to find scraps of wood, barrels, and nails to build a field that floated on the water. They became so good they entered tournaments and held their own.

It is rare to find a nonfiction book that focuses on the achievements of children and this one does just that. Our family was so impressed with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of these boys and what they were able to accomplish. An author’s note provides additional information about the Panyee Foodball Club including photographs of their floating field and village.

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Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person To Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh; illustrated by Baljinder Kaur, 2020

(Ages 5 and up)

“You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” These were the words spoken by Fauja Singh’s mother that stayed with him his entire life. They helped him overcome a childhood disability preventing him from walking, gave him the confidence to manage a farm, move to a new land, and eventually set several world records for running. His story is absolutely incredible and his perseverance and dedication is truly inspiring.

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The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung; illustrated by Julie Kwon, 2021

(Ages 5 and up)

This interesting picture book biography follows the life of the courageous Hazel Ying Lee who was born to fly. In the 1930’s it was unheard of for a woman to fly a plane, let alone a Chinese woman! Hazel never gave up on her dream and worked as an elevator operator to pay for her flying lessons. During WWII, the U.S. Military developed a new program to train female pilots and Hazel was accepted. During a tragic accident, Hazel’s life was lost too early, but she is remembered as a hero.

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Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang; illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz, 2019⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Resilience is an attribute I hope to teach my children and I was thrilled that my son was able to take away this important lesson from this fascinating true story. Magic Ramen shares the incredible journey of Momofuku Ando as he worked tirelessly to create a fast and convenient way to cook ramen noodles. Though he failed many times, Ando persevered and eventually succeeded in making instant ramen possible.

My son had never tasted ramen before, so we had a special outing to the grocery store where we purchased a cup of noodles made possible by Momofuku Ando! It was a fun way to bring the story to life.

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Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist  by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

This beautifully illustrated story follows a young Chinese immigrant who overcame poverty and prejudice to become a successful artist influencing future animators. Tyrus Wong came to the United States with a new identity and not much else. Through hard work and persistence, he earned a position at Walt Disney Studios. Here he integrated elements from his Eastern heritage to create the background for the film Bambi, inspiring future animators. This incredible story is further enhanced with rich backmatter including photographs of Wong as well as a note from the author and illustrator.

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Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson; illustrated by Rebecca Huang, 2019

(Ages 5 and up)

Born over 100 years ago during a time when girls were not considered smart enough to attend school, Wu Chien’s progressive parents pushed her to follow her dreams and become anything she wanted to be. Her name means “Courageous Hero” and after standing up to sexism and racism, she truly lived up to her name, dominating her scientific field and earning the title The Queen of Physics. Wu Chien’s extraordinary story is captured in this beautiful picture book biography encouraging children to boldly follow their passions no matter what obstacles stand in their way.

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Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating; illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens, 2017

(Ages 5 and up)

My science-oriented son loves this interesting story about a determined female scientist who overcame criticism to become one of the leading zoologists to study sharks. This colorful picture book biography introduces children to Eugenie Clark, who discovered new species of fish, published several books on sharks, and was the first to train sharks proving their intelligence. A “Shark Bite” section in the back educates readers with additional facts about sharks while a timeline shares highlights of Eugenie’s impressive life.

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It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear; illustrated by Julie Morstad, 2019

(Ages 7 and up)

It Began With a Page is the fascinating, inspirational story of Gyo Fujikawa, a trailblazer in children’s literature. During a time when segregation was rampant, Gyo created picture books that featured a diverse group of babies together for the first time. Her books were wildly popular and profitable, breaking the color barrier in publishing and paving the way for more multicultural stories.

Stunning illustrations pay tribute to Gyo’s accomplishments and beautifully outline her life. Difficult moments are touched upon such as the years Gyo’s family spent in a Japanese internment camp during WWII, making this a better choice for elementary age children and up.

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One thought on “Asian American and Pacific Islander Books

  1. Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business – Lyla Lee
    How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion – Ashima Shiraishi
    Our Lunar New Year – Yobe Qiu
    Let’s Go to Taekwondo! – Aram Kim
    A Map into the World – Kao Kalia Yang
    Pippa Park Raises Her Game – Erin Yun
    City of Secrets – Victoria Ying
    The Dragon Warrior – Katie Zhao
    The Last Fallen Star – Graci Kim

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