Books

These children's books help celebrate AAPI month.
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32 Children's Books With Asian Characters That Celebrate Heritage, Joy, and Childhood

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and these books are a wonderful way to celebrate.

Children’s books help cement cultural norms in kids — “for better or for worse,” says Caldecott Honor award-winning author Grace Lin. “Children only think things are ‘weird’ after the world tells them it is,” Lin tells Romper. “Children's books can show them that all cultures can be universal — and if kids are allowed to empathize with the characters in diverse books, they will learn that everyone has worth, that those who don't look like you still have feelings, and, most importantly, that we all share a common thread of humanity.”

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we’ve rounded up 32 wonderful titles that celebrate a wide variety of Asian cultures and experiences. These stories can broaden the horizons of young children just beginning to understand the world — after all, a diverse bookshelf can be an important early tool in giving children a sense of their shared humanity. Not all of these books are about AAPI heritage or history directly, but they all further the mission of representation.

That representation helps normalize kids seeing the world full of people who, despite differences, are actually a lot like themselves, Lin says — “and that is how we start to make everything better.”

James Yang, author of A Boy Named Isamu (which is out June 15), tells Romper how important representation in children’s books would have been to him as a kid, especially as a Korean child growing up in a small town in Oklahoma. “When you see people like yourself in a book, you feel like a part of the world,” he says.

And these books can also show children the rich diversity of Asian cultures. “We need to show children of all backgrounds that the singular racial category Asian is broad and diverse in terms of our countries of national origin, our languages, our appearance and way of dressing, our food, our stories, and our journeys,” Shelly Anand, author of Lazmi’s Mooch, tells Romper. “Asia encompasses so many countries — from Afghanistan to the Philippines, from Uzbekistan to Bhutan — there is no singular Asian narrative and we need to counter the consolidation of our identities.”

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1

A Book About A Japanese American Artist Fighting For Racial Diversity In Picture Books

It Began With a Page is a somewhat unlikely story in that it is a children’s book about children’s books. It focuses on the life and work of Gyo Fujikawa, an illustrator, and takes a close look at racial diversity in American picture books. During WWII, Gyo’s family was forced into an internment camp in Arkansas while Gyo worked as an illustrator in New York. She was determined to have as much diversity as possible in all of her children’s books, and she fought for representation throughout her career.

2

A Book That Teaches Hawaiian Traditions, Land, & Vocabulary Words

Ohana Means Family is an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, and it takes the reader to “a land that’s never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old, that reach through the water clear and cold...” per the description. This particular ohana is farming taro for poi — a paste made from the corn of the kalo (or taro) plant — to prepare for a traditional luau celebration. This book celebrates Hawaiian culture while educating readers about it and teaches them Hawaiian terms, which are included in a glossary in the back of the book.

3

A Book About Being Smushed In The Car

Squish Squash Squished is a fun, alliterative ride. Siblings Max and Molly complain about being smushed in the back of the car, so their mom shows them what it’s really like to be smushed when she picks up some animal friends along the way to the market. The silly, expressive language and beautiful illustrations make this a joyful read for kids and parents alike.

4

A Book About The Importance And Beauty Behind Names

The Name Jar has a two-fold lesson: why people should be proud of their name and what it represents, and why it’s so important that we teach children to respect and learn other cultures and names. Unhei (Yoon-Hey) just moved to America from Korea, and she’s anxious about kids liking her, and whether they’ll be able to say her name. She tells the class on the first day that she will pick a name at the end of the week, and the class fills a glass jar with different names for her to try out. Another classmate discovers her real name and its meaning, and hides the jar on the day she’s supposed to choose a new name. The story provides lessons on acceptance and friendship.

5

A Book About Loving & Celebrating What Makes You You

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners was released in January of this year, at a time when anti-Asian sentiment and violence had reached a horrifying crescendo, and author Joanna Ho spoke to Romper at the time about how she talks about racism with her own family. In this book, Ho tells the story of a young Asian girl who grows to love her Asian features that make her different from her non-Asian peers — and the beauty of acceptance of what makes us all unique.

6

A Book About Shapes Using Asian Items

Your child will learn shapes and objects that are Asian in origin in Round Is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes. There’s even a short glossary of the cultural items for your children to explore.

7

A Book About Siblings

In Big Red Lollipop, Rubina is forced to bring her little sister to her very first birthday party. And when things don’t go so well, she must figure out how to handle the situation, especially after her little sister steals her big red lollipop.

8

A Book About Cultural Traditions & Family Stories

Young readers will learn about the cultural traditions and delicious foods that come from India in Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji through the stories told by Aneel’s grandfather, Dada-Ji, who has come to the boy’s home for a visit.

9

A Book About Grief & Special Relationships

A Path of Stars won the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, and takes the reader to Cambodia, where a young girl named Dara tries to comfort her grandmother when her only surviving brother dies. Not only will your child learn about Cambodian food, culture, and geography, but they’ll also relate to the touching relationship a grandmother and granddaughter can have.

10

A Book About Bedtime & Sweet Dreams

In Happy Dreams Little Bunny, young readers will relate to Little Bunny, who just cannot sleep. But when Mommy tells Little Bunny that your thoughts can be turned into dreams that take you there, Little Bunny becomes excited to use their imagination for happy dreams.

11

A Book About The Childhood Of A Famous Japanese American Artist

Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese American artist and landscape architect, and A Boy Named Isamu is a picture book imagining what his childhood was like, depicting him as a young boy seeing everything through an artist’s eyes.

“Isamu Noguchi had an American mother and Japanese father,” author Yang says. “He was an outsider in both Japan and the U.S. My family was the only Korean family in a small town, so there was a lot about Isamu’s childhood that resonated. He’s one of my art heroes, so making a book about the great Isamu Noguchi was even more special.”

You can preorder this book from the Penguin Random House website, or wherever you purchase books, and it will be available on June 15, 2021.

12

A Book About The First Chinese American Woman To Fly For the U.S. Military

Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military in WWII. The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee is a picture book biography of her incredible story of barrier-shattering bravery and skill.

13

A Book About The Designer Of The Vietnam Memorial

This story is about Maya Lin, the artist and architect who designed the striking Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This beautiful picture book tells the story of Maya’s journey to making the piece, and why it was so important.

14

A Book About Grumpy Grandpas & The Kids Who Love Them

Grandpa Grumps is the sweet story of Daisy, who is trying to play with her grumpy Yeh-Yeh who is visiting from China. Her goal is to make him smile before he goes home — can she do it?

15

A Book About The Love Between A Mother & Daughter

Learn about Filipino heritage in Cora Makes Pancit, which chronicles the beautiful relationship between mother and daughter as they work together in the kitchen to create a special Filipino dish for the family.

16

A Book Teaching How To Count In Mandarin

One, Two, Three Dim Sum features gorgeous pictures of traditional Chinese food items paired with numbers in both English and Chinese. The vibrant colors on the pages are sure to catch your child’s eye.

17

A Book About Twins & Their Bond

The Twins’ Blanket is told from the perspective of 5-year-old twins who have shared everything. Now that they’ve grown into new beds, they have to figure out how to not share. This book is a sweet coming-of-age story about growing, learning, and finding yourself.

18

A Book About Loving The Little Things

What I Like Most is a book of seemingly simple observations, and how beautiful they can be through the eyes of a child. But even when things are not as wonderful as they appear, one thing is constant and certainly always wonderful — the love a mother has for her child and the love that child has for her mother.

19

A Book About Gender Equality & Sibling Love

Sumo Joe is a great big brother to his little sister, but Saturday afternoons are his time to practice sumo wrestling and hang with the guys — that is, until his little sister wants to come and practice, too. The rule among the group is “No girls allowed,” so what will Sumo Joe do?

“I wrote Sumo Joe because, like ninjas, people think they know what sumo and ninjas are, but it’s usually a caricature of what it actually is,” says author Mia Wenjen. “While sumo has a comical factor to it, it’s not fat men in diapers. I wanted to bring out the deeper connection of sumo to the Shinto religion and as a martial art by presenting it as a picture book with two siblings facing off, aikido versus sumo. I hope that it’s a fun way for kids to learn about the sport of sumo.”

20

A Book About Moon Phases

A Big Mooncake for Little Star is a New York Times-bestselling picture book that teaches the different moon phases through the story of a girl named Little Star who wants to eat the mooncake. As she takes bites, the moon takes on different shapes, teaching children about the different phases of the moon.

21

A Book About Our First Female Vice President

Not only is Kamala Harris the country’s first female vice president, but she’s also the country’s first ever South Asian American and Black vice president. This beautifully illustrated biographical picture book tells Madam Vice President’s story. “When Kamala Harris was young, she often accompanied her parents to civil rights marches — so many, in fact, that when her mother asked a frustrated Kamala what she wanted, the young girl responded with, ‘Freedom!’”

22

A Book About A Woman Breaking Gender Barriers In Science

Wu Chien Shiung was born in China during a time when girls did not attend school — and they were definitely not scientists. Her name means “Courageous Hero,” because her parents had big plans for her, and in Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, her story is told in this beautiful picture book, including how she became the “first woman to be hired as an instructor at Princeton, the first woman elected as president of the American Physical Society, and the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive.”

23

A Book About An Award-Winning Sculptor

Ruth Asawa was an award-winning Japanese-American sculptor, activist, and influential individual, who was “a beloved figure in the Bay Area art world.” A Life Made by Hand beautifully showcases her creative journey, which started on her family farm and took her to Black Mountain College, where she “pursued an experimental course of education with leading avant-garde artists.” Included in the book is a page of teaching tools for parents and educators reading this book to the young art lovers of today.

24

A Book About A Trailblazing Chinese American Film Star

In 1905, Anna May Wong worked in her parent’s laundry in Chinatown in Los Angeles, and after seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, she knew she wanted to be an actress. Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story is a beautifully illustrated look at the first Chinese American movie star.

25

A Book About A Father-Daughter Bond Celebrating Tradition

Hair Twins celebrates the love of a family and the traditions that bond them together. A Sikh father and his daughter bond over their long hair. Dad styles his girl’s hair every day, and her favorite look is when her dad puts her hair in a bun, because it’s the same as the joora he wears every day under his turban.

26

A Book About Sadness & Helpful Friends

Jenny Mei is Sad introduces “the complexity of sadness,” and the book teaches kids how to be a good friend to someone who is feeling bad but may be hiding it from others. This book will be on sale on June 15, 2021, and you can preorder it wherever you purchase books online.

27

A Book Introducing Readers To Their First Snow

A Big Bed for Little Snow is a companion to the Caldecott Honor book A Big Mooncake for Little Star, and it introduces readers to their first snow through the story of a little boy jumping in his big new fluffy bed.

28

A Book About Body Acceptance

“The idea for Laxmi’s Mooch came to me when a young South Asian girl in my community was teased for her mustache by a classmate in Kindergarten. Her mother called me wondering what to do — she knew that hair removal was not the answer,” author Shelly Anand tells Romper. “Growing up as a hairy South Asian girl myself, I was flooded with memories of my initiation into the hair removal process, one that has spanned over 24 years, and the bullying I endured as a tween. I wanted to create a story where hair removal was not the answer. I wanted to imagine a world where we could love and embrace ourselves as hairy and get rid of this myth of the hairless girl or woman.”

29

A Book About The Love Of Aunties

“I was inspired to write What Will My Story Be to pay tribute to aunties and their importance in a young girl's life. It's about a girl who's inspired to pursue her own storytelling because of her aunties,” says author Nidhi Chanani. “Each auntie comes from a different place in the world and contributes to the girl’s sense of wonder and creativity. It's a poem honoring the relationship of our chosen families and their impact on our hopes and dreams.”

What Will My Story Be is available for preorder on the Penguin Random House website, and will be released in Oct. 2021.

30

A Book About Persian New Year

Seven Special Somethings features Kian and his family coming together to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Young readers can help him find seven things that start with “S” so he will have joy in the new year.

31

A Book About A Mother’s Love

In My Love For You Is Always, a mother tells her son all the different ways she loves him and she prepares a traditional Chinese meal for her family. Her love is “warm like tea, rosy as wolfberries, sweeter than red dates, and it goes round and round with no beginning and no end,” the description reads.

This book is available for pre-order on the Penguin Random House website, and will be released in Sept. 2021.

32

A Book About Enjoying The Great Outdoors

An immigrant family heads out for their very first camping trip in the Midwest in Fatima’s Great Outdoors. After having a horrible day at school during which her food is sneered at in the lunchroom, someone makes fun of her accent, and someone else pulls on her braid in the hallway, Fatima Khazi is overjoyed to spend time with her “people” — her family — when they go on a camping trip. “It’s a great American pastime,” her father tells her. She doesn’t want their beautiful outdoor adventure to end, but her sister reminds her that they can “keep the memory alive by telling stories and daydream about their next camping trip.” And she tells her class about her adventurous camping trip when they return, and everyone is enthralled.