10 fantastic kids’ books with AAPI characters
Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with one (or more) of these stories.
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Representation matters and begins with the characters and stories we tell our children. Seeing, learning, and recognizing the diversity of our community creates respect and understanding of the many rich cultures that comprise the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience in America. Celebrating what makes us different begins with reading books that feature rich Asian characters and stories interwoven into the everyday American life we all share.
The books listed here represent just a small subsection of picks that reflect the Asian American experience; stories of new immigrants navigating a new land, of inter-generational Americans in their everyday lives, and of trailblazers that fought adversity to achieve the impossible.
1. Danbi Leads the School Parade
Ages: 3 to 7
Danbi arrives in the midwest from Korea, worried and scared about fitting in on her first day of school. She keeps trying new dances and games but awkwardly messes things up. Luckily, lunchtime rolls around and her classmates are drawn in by the beautifully arranged food in her lunchbox: yams in honey, crystal dumplings, half moon rice cakes with sweet sesame. Danbi is able to share a part of her culture and make a new friend in the process.
2. How to Solve a Problem
Ages: 4 to 8
This is a fun and easy-to-read book written by world champion Japanese-American rock climber Ashima Shiraishi. With flourish, Shiraishi describes her visualization of paths up the rock, falling, then getting up to try again, each time with a new perspective.
Learning from failures makes this a perfect book for a range of readers, especially highlighting the importance of finding focus and harnessing frustrations. The comic-book style illustrations keep it visually appealing; the inside cover is adorned with images of Shiraishi posing in different climbing holds in fun outfits. Budding athletes will be able to relate to her challenges in attacking a difficult problem.
3. Sunday Funday in Koreatown
Ages: 3 to 7
The third book in the Yoomi Cat series, this time we’re taken on a tour of Koreatown as Yoomi enjoys Sunday Funday with her Dad and Grandma. Changes in the plans for the day frustrate Yoomi, which many young readers may be able to relate to. But in the end, Yoomi learns the value of enjoying time with her family.
This book includes an easy-to-follow recipe for kimbap, one of the most popular Korean dishes, typically eaten as a quick on-the-go meal. The illustrations are detailed and colorful, including cultural touches like the clothes drying racks on the family’s deck and food sampling at the Korean market. The images are designed to depict any Koreatown but there are a few New York easter eggs, author Kim’s home. Kids will love following the colorful Cat family around town.
4. My Day with Gong Gong
Ages: 4 to 7
May is dropped off at grandfather’s place by her mother, but Gong Gong can’t speak English and May doesn’t understand Chinese. Gong Gong takes her through his day in Chinatown, chit chatting with shopkeepers and friends in Cantonese. May gets bored, unable to understand their interactions, but right as May begins to throw a fit, Gong Gong comes through and bridges the generation gap.
It provides a fun introduction of Chinese words and highlights that many Asian Americans may not speak their ethnic language. The Canadian author quintessentially tells the second- and third-generation story many AAPI parents may relate to.
5. Ohana Means Family
Ages: 3 to 7
Ohana Means Family is filled with watercolor illustrations celebrating Hawaiian culture and the connection food has to the land, the environment, and to the community. Loomis starts with growing taro, an essential part of Hawaiian cooking. The book continues through making poi, and finally ends with a celebratory family luau.
The rhythmic writing underscores the importance of each cultural element, highlighting Hawaii’s indigenous people, and makes the book a great read for the younger set and early readers alike.
6. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist
Ages: 4 to 8
Who doesn’t love learning about sharks? Born to a Japanese mother, Eugenie Clark was a first in her field, setting out to prove that sharks were misunderstood creatures, at a time when there were few female scientists. The book follows her travels and diving adventures as she discovers new species and learns about sharks’ true intellect.
Readers will be inspired by her passion and curiosity for science—especially after being told “no” by so many. It’s the perfect book for every budding ichthyologist.
7. Asian Americans Who Inspire Us
Ages: 4 to 10+
Intricate illustrations follow each of these stories of courage, perseverance, and determination, bringing to life a group of diverse role models. From Larry Itliong & Philip Vera Cruz, labor leaders who worked with Cesar Chavez to create the United Farm Workers union, to Sal Khan, who brought Khan Academy to so many children worldwide, and David Ho, who worked to turn HIV into a manageable disease, this book spans the cultures and contributions of many AAPI leaders and thought makers.
8. Measuring Up
Ages: 7 to 13
Twelve-year-old Cici immigrates from Taiwan and does her best to fit into her new Seattle school, but finds well-meaning friends that are a bit confused about her ethnicity. She sorely misses her grandmother, so she joins a cooking competition in hopes of winning the grand prize to pay for grandmother’s ticket to visit the U.S. It’s an incredibly relatable story about a girl wanting to make her family happy while struggling to pursue her passion in her own authentic way.
The book weaves through the family’s immigrant challenges and focuses on conflicts of assimilation and acculturation. Readers will identify easily with the characters and their constant efforts to gain acceptance and understanding from parents.
9. Three Keys
Ages: 8 to 13
This novel follows 11-year-old Mia and her immigrant family as they settle into managing their new hotel. It begins by introducing the community that resides in the hotel and their attempts to create a village of support. The story is set against the impending legislation of California prop 187, which resulted in the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and hate crimes. Mia uses writing, her superpower, to challenge what is unjust. Kids will be galvanized by her courage and ability to rise above.
10. Hello, Universe
Ages: 8 to 12
Virgil is a painfully shy introvert who admires Valencia, a deaf classmate, from afar. He consults with Kaori, a budding entrepreneur psychic, and her sidekick sister Gen, about his future. Chet is the class bully that inadvertently sends all four children on an adventure that forces them to face their fears and forge true friendships. The story is beautifully and precisely written, punctuated by frequent Filipino folklore and often scary storytelling from Lola, Virgil’s grandmother.
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