May 1 marks the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (AAPI)!
To celebrate, read these amazing children’s books with Asian and Pacific Islander representation.
Not only are the books beautiful and well-written stories, but they also are tools for inclusivity, education, and empathy building.
Before, during, and after reading, TALK about these AAPI stories.
Ask children, “What do you have in common with the characters?”
If the culture is new to readers, ask children, “What did you learn about the characters or culture?”
Finally, in the wake of violence against Asian Americans, it’s more important than ever to discuss kindness towards other people, all people.
Model that you are a kind person and help your child know that you want them to also show kindness and support towards people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.
Asia and the Pacific Islands are comprised of many countries and cultures.
To that end, I also have other book lists representing more specific AAPI countries and areas of the world:
- Southeast Asia (Books set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh)
- East Asia (Books set in China, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Taiwan)
- Muslim Main Characters
Below, you’ll find the following:
(Click to jump to the section you want.)
Children’s Books to Read for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (AAPI)
Hot Pot Night! by Vincent Chen
Lyrical, simple, and repetitive language narrates the story of a young boy whose neighbors contribute ingredients and tools to make a hot pot communal meal. This meal brings many people by preparing and sharing a meal. “Hot pot, hot pot, let’s have a hot pot!”
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
“I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” I can’t get enough of this beautiful book. It’s a sensory, lyrical celebration of Asian eyes; a body-positive ode filled with self-acceptance and confidence as a little girl shares her thoughts on who she is and who the women in her family are including her little sister and her Amah. “My eyes crinkle into crescents moons and sparkle like the stars. Gold flecks dance and twirl while stories whirl in their oolong pools, carrying tales of the past and hope for the future.”
Natsumi by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris
In a story rich with Japanese culture and acceptance for individuality, you’ll love Natsumi, a little girl who likes to do everything with exuberance. All other adults tell Natsumi to not be so loud, hard, or fast — but not Grandfather. Grandfather doesn’t scold her. He sees Natsumi’s strengths so he takes her to taiko drumming classes … where she can be herself — loud and fast!
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Ld
Kalia’s Hmong family doesn’t have much money but they do have, her grandma helps her see, is beauty, heritage, and love.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak
In the tradition of the cumulative poem, “This is the House that Jack Built“, this mesmerizing version shares a Hawaiian cultural tradition of making poi for an ohana’s lu’au. Pak’s atmospheric, stylized watercolor illustrations and Loomis’s lyrical text show the many “hardworking hands, so wise and old, that pick the kalo to make the poi to share with ‘ohana, the loved ones.” Readers see the ohana’s connection to the earth in rain, sun, and mud. Finally, the family gathers at the end of the day together on a beach to eat and celebrate.
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal tells his friends all about daal. Together, they carefully prepare the ingredients, then wait as the flavors mix together. While they’re waiting, they play outside. Finally, the daal is ready for more ingredients and the best part of all — eating! This story makes me want to eat daal, too — it’s a savory introduction to this lentil dish from South Asia as well as a warm-hearted example of sharing traditional foods with friends from other cultures.
Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh
There’s a beauty in the predictability and minimal description of Papa’s daily routine. He gets up, drinks tea, waters the plants, and eventually goes into town. He gets his favorite lunch–dumplings. But on Thursday, it’s slightly different. In town, he buys craft supplies and gets two orders of dumplings to go. Then, he spends the afternoon with his granddaughter who is just as happy to see him as he is to see her. I love the joy in this relationship! And, I adore the exquisite paper-cut illustrations.
A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illustrated by Christina Forshay
What strikes me immediately about this picture book is the warm-hearted, loving relationship between the grandpa and the granddaughter. Even when the granddaughter does things differently than her grandpa, he is very accepting of her silly ways. And vice-versa. In the end, they both learn from each other during their morning practices of Tai Chi and Yoga. Because it’s about being together, trying your best, and not being perfect.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel
When Priya helps her Babi Ba cook rotli, her Babi Ba shares her memories of India…the smell of roasted cumin and masala, the sound of motorbikes whizzing by, the taste of a steaming cup of cha, the feel of the hot sun on your face, views of arches and domes of the buildings, the rainbow of saris, and brightly colored marigolds. Later, Priya makes her Babi Ba paper orange marigolds for their doorway in the U.S. to remind her. I adore the writing, the illustrations, and the story that celebrate India’s culture as well as a close grandparent-grandchild relationship.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon loves writing her name in Korean but her father insists she must write her name in English. Yoon decides she isn’t sure about her name in English and wonders if another name would be better.
My Little Sister and Me by Maple Lam
Today is a big day for this big brother — he gets to walk his little sister home from the bus stop all by himself. As they journey home, you see a caring big brother and sister relationship that ends in a sweet thank you note from little sister to big brother.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
This beautiful story shows how art brings together two generations separated by language and age. Mostly wordless, this is almost a graphic novel with exquisite artwork in comic-style panels. A boy arrives at his grandfather’s house. He’s frustrated because his grandfather doesn’t speak English. The two eat in silence. Then the boy begins drawing himself as a caped superhero. Excited, his grandfather draws himself as a superhero, too — only one garbed in what appears to be a traditional ceremonial dress. Their connection continues through art — each with his own unique style.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley
A relatable story about feelings, moving homes, and finding a friend. Harpreet loves colors and expresses his feelings with the colors of his patkas which are a kind of turban that he wears each day. One of the best children’s picture books of 2019, this beautiful book includes some much-needed representation and addresses the importance of talking about feelings.
Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata
Introduce your kids to two Japanese traditional martial arts — sumo and aikido in this story about a brother who likes sumo and a sister who prefers aikido. While the rhyming text is minimal, it is also full of rich vocabulary (with a glossary in the back). For example, “Hands on knees, leg raised low, practice shiko.” Sumo Joe and his friends playing sumo in the living room. Until Aikido Jo comes home. Then the siblings face-off and end with a pillow fight. It’s such a fun story that is sure to get your kids up out of their chairs to imitate the moves.
A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa
A little girl excitedly explores the market to find her Amma a gift. She notices the colors — orange saffron and marigolds, white jasmine and goats, pink lotus flowers and sweets…I love how many senses the author engages from sights to sounds and tastes and smells. “Tumeric yellow like sunshine dust, Plenty of powdery spice at home. A yellow rickshaw pedals by — Ding-a-ling! I scoot to the side.” Beautiful illustrations perfectly illuminate the celebration of the market’s colors and the girl’s excitement.
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Juo
You will adore the magical illustrations in this picture book that celebrates Tokyo, and one boy’s search for silence. He notices the sounds around him, the train, the bamboo groves, and more …until he realizes that “ma” is a silence inside of him.
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua
Amy can do a lot of things but she can’t make bao very well. Amy watches the dough rise, her dad rolls the dough while Amy’s dad makes the filling. Amy tries to make her own bao but she tries and tries and she just can’t. Then Amy has a great idea — to make Amy-sized pieces. Perfect! They get boiled and taste delicious. Want to make your own bao? There’s a family recipe in the back. A yummy introduction to Chinese dumplings and that with a little creative problem solving, you can achieve your goals.
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua
The kids at Amy’s school draw western-looking dragons and when they say her (Eastern-looking) dragon doesn’t look like a dragon. At home, her grandmother tells her stories about dragons that bring down the rain, that fly without wings, and are wise and just. Not only that, she lets Amy and her friends play with a dragon costume which they bring to school to show her classmates what Eastern dragons look like.
Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
The significant women in this girl’s life wear hijabs and also, sometimes don’t. They inspire her with all that they do and who they are. It’s an important slice-of-life story featuring strong, inspiring Muslim women.
I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo
A little girl remembers times with her beloved Popo…visiting the park, celebrating New Year’s Day, and looking at the globe to see where they are in Taiwan and where the girl will be moving, San Diego. She moves to the U.S. and thinks of Popo during her days, talks to her on video calls, and returns for a short visit. Even when Popo is gone from this world, she visits the little girl in her dreams and their love endures.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
A young boy wakes up early to go fishing with his dad. As they fish for their dinner, Bao helps his dad build a fire and put the fish in a bucket. While they’re together, Bao’s dad recalls fishing in his home country of Vietnam. The blue-black illustrations and precise prose help us feel the stillness of the early morning hours and the strong bond between father and son. Later that night, the entire family gathers together to eat the morning’s catch.
Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
This story captures a common story of feeling embarrassed about being different. When Vinson’s grandpa from China visits, Vinson is embarrassed. However, Vinson learns grandpa is a martial-arts master and starts to see him as someone to be proud of. The elements of Chinese culture like tai chi and clothing give readers some important cultural insight.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Grace Zong
My daughter thinks this story is SO MUCH better than the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears because in this story of a young Chinese girl named Goldy, Goldy returns to the scene of her crime to apologize and help fix things. Isn’t that a better ending?
Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Alina Chau
Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrations by Ebony Glenn
The little girl feels loved, safe, brave, and imaginative when she plays dress-up with her mommy’s colorful khimars which are headscarves. Her playful joy with the scarves celebrates her family’s culture and beliefs.
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam
Cut-paper collage art in black, white, and pink depicts the wordless journey of a family’s escape from Vietnam, beginning with the girl’s life in war-torn Vietnam where they travel by boat towards safety. In a parallel story, a group of ants escapes onto a paper boat on the same river. Both experience bad weather, thirst, and hunger before finally arriving somewhere new. Masterfully illustrated and conceived, this book will prompt discussion and build an understanding of the hardships of migration.
The Proudest Blue A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly#OWNVOICES
The Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang
Gorgeous collage-style artwork helps the author share female scientist, Wu Chien Shiung’s, inspiring life. Even though girls weren’t typically educated in the early 1900s, Chien Shiung’s parents believed in education for girls, helping her by opening a school for girls. Chien loved learning, especially math and physics. Eventually, she moved to the United States where she made significant scientific breakthroughs — and was dubbed “The Queen of Physics.”
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sask
Because he was never given credit for his work, this biography feels redemptive in the telling. It’s an interesting life story about a man who first immigrated illegally from China as a child. He worked hard, becoming an artist who worked for Walt Disney Studios. His vision of the backgrounds for Bambi inspired the entire movie’s design. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given credit.
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao
Written by one of the world’s youngest and best climbers, Ashima shares her experiences with climbing difficult “problems”–what climbers call the boulders they climb. This personal narrative focuses on a growth mindset of perseverance and facing challenges with grit.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Unhei tells her new American classmates that they can pick out her name. But what name will she pick? Or will she find the importance in her own Korean name? This sweet book helps show kids the value in each person’s heritage and their given name.
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun
Four sweet stories of Yu’er and her grandpa show their warm bond and Yu’er’s adventures around their Beijing neighborhood. The first story is about Yu’er’s desire to compete in the Special Olympics. Other stories include defending herself from bullies with the help of a new friend as well as a magical old mailbox that transports Yu’er through time. This is a beautifully illustrated book of stories that feels nostalgic and heartwarming.
The Year of the Book by Andrea Chang
Growing up is challenging and in the first novel, The Year of the Book, Anna turns to books for company while she learns how to make friendships in real life. The subsequent books in the series are just as realistic and well-written. I highly recommend them.
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho
Mindy and her dad recently moved to Florida after her mom’s death. When the other kids at school make fun of her seaweed snacks at lunch, Mindy and her new friend Sally start a snack business to save money for a puppy. This doesn’t go as planned yet it’s a big learning experience showing Mindy to be herself and be proud of her Korean-American culture.
Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja by Anh Do
Nelson is nerdy and likable main character who wakes up on his 10th birthday with perfect vision and… ninja moves! His mum and grandma explain that like his missing fisherman dad before him, Nelson is the last ninja in the world — and he’s destined to save the world. Action-packed and funny with appealing illustrations and great characters.
Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
Second-grader, Alvin Ho, is afraid of everything, especially school. A school he’s quiet but at home, he’s Firecracker Man, a superhero. His fears will be relatable to many children who also are facing fears every day.
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqui, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Yasmin is an exuberant girl who is interested in everything from exploring to building to fashion. Each book in this series shares short stories from Yasmin’s life, all in chapters with lively, full-color illustrations. Each story shows Yasmin as a creative problem solver even when things get hard. Her Pakistani American culture is embedded throughout the story such as the foods Yasmin’s family eats like naan or how she calls her father Baba.
Katie Woo’s Neighborhood by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Laura Zarrin
Short stories about cheerful, positive Katie, a girl who visits the dentist, bakes cupcakes, visits a farm, and rescues a kitten.
Power Forward by Hena Khan
Filled with Urdu and Pakistani culture, this is a short beginning chapter book about a boy who loves basketball. Unfortunately, he skips violin lessons and lies to his parents in order to go to extra basketball practices. Zayd learns some hard lessons both about honesty and communication with his family which, in the end, makes his life better.
Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
Pacy’s family visits Taiwan for her grandmother’s 60th birthday. It’s her first time visiting and she struggles with the language and meeting other kids.
Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
A beautiful graphic novel about food, a close-knit, multigenerational family, finding your place in a new culture and country, and staying proud of your heritage…Cici moves to the U.S. from Tawain and wants her A’má to come, too. She hopes to win the grand prize in a cooking contest and use the money to buy her A’má a plane ticket. Cici wants to cook American food like her cooking contest partner…She learns from Julia Child but in the end, Cici returns to her Tawainese roots to win the contest.
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. Like Jingwen says about his new beginnings and sad losses, it’s a story that is both salty and sweet. The charming illustrations totally capture the brother’s personalities, too!
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This Newbery Honor book shares the story in verse of a girl, Hà, who is fleeing Vietnam with her family and immigrating to the southern United States. Ultimately, her immigration transition is difficult yet sometimes funny.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee
Based on her grandmother’s escape from North Korea, this historical fiction story is a powerful read that captures the fearful culture of North Korea, the marginalization of females, and the bond between siblings. As war erupts between North and South Korea, Sora and her family decide to flee from North Korea while they still have a chance. But she and her little brother are separated from their family. As they continue south, they experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them. Even worse, her brother, Youngsoo, is getting sicker and sicker. Amazingly, the two make it to the south where they’re reunited with their family but it’s a bittersweet ending.
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
This book is so sad and beautiful! Katie’s sister, Lynn, helps her make sense of the prejudice and challenges their Japanese-American family faces in Georgia in the 1950s. When Lynn gets very ill, Katie tries to emulate her sister’s positive outlook.
Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki
An important, multi-layered story of a Japanese girl’s understanding of Hiroshima, grief, family, and the healing power of sharing stories. When Nozomi’s art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, leaves the school due to sickness, she and her friends plan a festival in his honor called “Hiroshima: Then and Now.” They interview people close to them about their experiences during the bombing (which they call “the flash”), learning many unknown stories including that Mr. Yoshioka lost his beloved and stills visits her grave. As the kids learn about their family and neighbor’s lives and deaths, their stories impact the way the kids’ view things now and their hope for the future, which they each share artistically in the festival.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
This is the story about friends as family, resiliency, and courage. Set in India, Viji her sister run away to the big city where they meet two friendly brothers. They live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is than she previously thought. Then when a bad trash man finds their home, the four kids escape to a mosquito-filled cemetery filled. Not long after, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever. What happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new family that helps her see more in the future than misery. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Lily, her sister, and their mother move in with her Halmoni (Korean for grandmother) but it’s not the same as before. Now her grandmother is sick at night and reveals to Lily that she stole stories from the tigers and they’re hunting her to get them back. Lily tries to make a deal with the tiger to save Halmoni, she doesn’t want her grandmother to die. This book celebrates Korean culture and storytelling and is about coming to terms with death and illness and knowing yourself so you can write your own stories.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
If your kids aren’t interested in Chinese history, they will be after reading this novel. Ming lives in rural communist China with his father, who finds artifacts for the museum. A discovered terra-cotta soldier comes to life and befriends Ming. They must work together to protect the soldiers and Emperor Qin’s tomb. The authors weave in historical photos and information throughout the story.
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
In a time when Korea is occupied by Japan, the Korean language, their folktales, and all Korean culture are forbidden. Then World War II arrives and the Japanese expect that the Koreans will fight for Japan. Sun-hee is shocked that her brother, Tae-yul, enlists to misdirect the soldiers’ interest in his uncle. The plot is filled with themes of injustice, resistance, courage, and family during a difficult historical time period of occupation.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
A Newbery medal winner! The setting is 12-century Korea. Orphaned and homeless, 13-year-old Tree-ear years to become a potter like Min. But when Min takes Tree-ear as his helper, Tree-ear is discouraged at his master’s temper and the back-breaking work. He decides he’ll prove his worthiness by getting a royal commission. He’ll make a journey filled with challenges and arrive at his destination with only a single shard to showcase Min’s pottery.
Green Lantern Legacy by Minh Le, illustrated by Angie Tong
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Lieu
This is an origin story of the Green Turtle, a 1940’s masked Asian-American superhero. I loved everything about this man who is a reluctant vigilante! His overbearing mother pushes him to become a hero and is disappointed in him, thinks him a failure. There’s a cool element of Chinese mythology (the turtle spirit) that comes into play, affecting Hank, who steps up to fight the Chinatown gangs, a hero at last.
The Boy Who Became a Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story by Jim Di Bartolo
You don’t have to love martial arts to enjoy this engaging biography about the martial artist and movie star legend Bruce Lee. From his birth in San Francisco to life in Hong Kong during and after the Japanese occupation, then his move back to the U.S., you’ll meet a troubled kid who manages to work as an actor like his father. Because of the racism against him for having mixed-race heritage as well as having a dad who worked for the hated Japanese, Bruce leaves his home in Hong Kong for the U.S. There, he’s a more settled man who opens up several martial artist studios, falls in love, and becomes a movie star. Lee’s life is fascinating and the author does a great job with all the historical references.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
Both history and memoir, this is an important, no, essential story during WWII when the US government declares war on Japan and subsequently all Japanese people, forcing anyone of Japanese descent, including children, into detention camps…George’s family leave behind a two-bedroom house in Los Angeles, taking only what they can carry. They are transported first to a cramped, smelly horse stable and then to a bare-bones, overcrowded barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. George and his brother adapt well –mostly because they have amazing parents but this story also shows the reality for the adults in their new, unfair situation. It shows George’s parents’ resiliency and perseverance. When World War II ended, leaving the camps isn’t an easy, happy ending for any of the detained families. As you can imagine, they have nothing– no jobs nor bank accounts and are returning to a world of prejudice.
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang
Recognized for excellence in writing, this true story of 12-year-old Ji-li’s life in the 1960s shows readers the personal destruction that China’s leader, Mao Ze-dong, inflicted on families with his Cultural Revolution. Ji-li believed in China’s Communist party until her family was persecuted and her father imprisoned. She struggles to make sense of her new reality. Soon, she’ll be forced to choose between her family and her country.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
This is a powerful, well-told personal story from the wise, self-reflective perspective of Malala Yousafzai. Malala draws readers in with her accounts of daily life in Pakistan — the sounds, smells, sights, habits. We are hooked from the first page. As the stage is set, we learn how her country used to be and the fearful place it became with the Taliban’s influence. After she is shot for her blog writing in support of educating females, she’s taken to England for recovery and safety. The confusion and contrast between the countries and cultures really stand out during this time. But what is even more striking is Malala’s hope, positivity, and belief in what she stands for. You can’t read this book and not be changed by it.