To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am going to give a shout out to all the AAPI children’s book authors and illustrators that I can think of with a book published in the last 18 months. I will be listing them by book genre in the hopes that you, my readers, will check out their books.
You might notice that I’m not listing any ninja-themed books on my list. Here’s a little analogy of why:
Where I live outside of Boston, nearly every single Japanese restaurant that I have been to, I have discovered has been owned and run by someone who is Asian but not of Japanese descent. One of the restaurants, Genji Sushi, has actually won accolades for best Japanese sushi restaurant.
I went there when I first moved to Boston. They walk the walk; the waitresses wear kimono! If you talk to them in rudimentary Japanese (which my husband and I describe as “sushi bar” Japanese) they look at you blankly. Everyone there was not Japanese. Chinese, yes. Maybe other countries too. But no one spoke Japanese because no one was actually Japanese.
I’ve been to Japanese sushi take out with decent food. I thought they were Japanese. It turns out that they are Taiwanese. I’m cool with that. Taiwan was under Japanese rule for 50 years. Koreans commonly run hybrid sushi Korean restaurants. I am cool with that too for the same reason.
But even if you are trained in Japan, if you are not Japanese, you will never get access to the best ingredients like the special rice that Jiro uses or the most sought after fish, particularly if it is sourced from Japan. That’s just not how the Japanese do business. It doesn’t matter if you are the first to ask or your money is green, they simply won’t give you the same access as a Japanese sushi chef who likely also cultivated this relationship based on a web of interlocking relationships that take generations to build.
I get why Asians who are not of Japanese descent want to run sushi restaurants. There is big money in sushi. It’s mainstream these days. But is this cultural appropriation? When Korean food becomes equally as trendy and accepted, are these same Korean restauranteurs going to like Chinese Americans running soondubu or Korean BBQ restaurants?
So that is how I feel about ninjas. It’s trendy. Ninja themed books are selling like hotcakes. Just slap on a black mask on a character and have them sneak around. That’s money. But that’s not actually what ninjas are.
Should those who are not of Japanese descent write about ninjas? What if they did their research? Ok, then. Go train as a ninja. This is not a library assignment. But don’t write about ninjas until you do.
Finally, we lost a good one recently. In memory of Yumi Heo (from Publishers Weekly):
Children’s author and illustrator Yumi Heo, creator of more than 30 distinctive books praised for their varying visual perspectives and stylized, often whimsical imagery, died on November 5 after a long battle with cancer.
Heo illustrated several folktales and picture books by other authors, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday by Lenore Look (Atheneum, 2001) and Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail (Scholastic, 2001). She also wrote several of her own picture-book texts, among them One Afternoon (Orchard, 1994) and Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story (Schwartz & Wade, 2009).
p.s. I’m trying to include all AAPI children’s book authors and illustrators with recent books but I know I’ve accidentally forgotten a few. Can you help me out by adding them, their newest book, and what you think of the book in the comments? Thanks so much!
p.p.s. I’ve read most of these books (and I’m now dedicating my TBR pile to AAPI authors first) but for those books that I haven’t gotten to yet, I have used publisher book summaries.
Recent Picture Books by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
No Kimchi for Me by Aram Kim
Yoomi hates kimchi which is served at every Korean meal. It’s too stinky for her. Her brothers think she’s a baby because she can’t eat so she’s determined to overcome her eating aversion. She tries different ways to make it more palatable and finally Grandma helps her come up with the perfect solution. This book rings true to me. My kids have overcome their kimchi aversion (too spicy!) using this same method! Recipe and backmatter in the back for adventurous eaters only! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho
Bear finds Chicken frozen in the woods and revives Chicken at home. As he sets about boiling water for their lunch, Chicken panics and makes a run for it. It turns out that Bear is not making chicken soup, Bear is VEGETARIAN! This is a gentle and humorous story about overcome bias. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
A Vietnamese boy and his father go fishing in the middle of the night. This is not for recreation; it for feeding their family. His father works several jobs. His mother also works. The boy also takes responsibility for his siblings when his parents are at work. This is a dignified portrait of new immigrants and how hard they work to get established in a new country. Despite working around the clock, the family is grateful for what they have and for their time together. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Let Me Finish by Minh Le, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
A boy is trying to finish his book, but disruptions plague him. A fun and funny picture book! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
A language and generation gap keep a grandson apart from his grandfather, but art draws them together in this heartwarming adventure. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
After the Fall by Dan Santat
Dan Santat’s latest fractured fairy tale/growth-mindset picture book is both clever and moving. It’s the ambiguous ending that seals the deal for me though. The genius of this story is taking something that is well known and finding a spin that is both inspiring, provocative, and cleverly original. The growth mindset message is right on target as well. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Where Are My Books by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Spencer loves to read. He reads a book every night. But one morning his favorite book goes missing, and in its place is a tulip. Spencer searches high and low, but he can’t find his book.
The next morning another book is missing, a nut in its place. And the morning after that, another book is missing.
What is happening to Spencer’s books? When he finds out, Spencer devises a surprising solution that will delight readers (and librarians) everywhere. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Danny’s Hawaiian Journey by Patrick Landeza, illustrated by Edna Cabcabin Moran
A young boy who has never been to Hawai‘i learns about his Hawai‘ian heritage. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
Grace Lin’s first picture book in eight years is a delightful bedtime story celebrating her favorite holiday: the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. She also expresses herself in a different artistic style in this love letter to her daughter who kept asking for more stories about the moon. Enjoy with a mooncake that you purchase or bake yourself like Little Star’s mom. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Tale of the Lucky Cat by Sunny Seki
The waving cat at Japanese restaurants and stores might be familiar but perhaps this Japanese folktale of how the Maneki Neko (The Cat That Invites Good Luck) is new to you. It’s new to me and I’m half Japanese!
Long ago in Japan, a kind but poor toymaker named Tokuzo traveled from village to village to sell his toys. He happened to see a cat running from a dog who ended up in a terrible accident.
Tokuzo took the cat home and nursed it carefully but the cat died. He carefully buried the cat, said his goodbye and went on his way. A storm started, and Tokuzo took shelter under a tree. Suddenly he saw a waving cat that looked exactly like the cat he rescued. Puzzled, he went to the cat. An instant later, lightning struck the very tree he stood under. Was this the very same cat who had died?
He told many people about this mysterious cat and ended up asking a wise old man, a master craftsman for advice. Tokuzo decides to create a statue of the cat to share his good luck. The statue, made of clay, ends up being as a waving cat, very much like the ones you see today!
This story reminds us that all acts of kindness matter.
Bilingual Japanese folktale in Japanese and English! [Picture book, for ages 4 and up.]
Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung
In the beginning, there were three colors . . .
All special in their own ways, all living in harmony―until one day, a Red says “Reds are the best!” and starts a color kerfuffle. When the colors decide to separate, is there anyting that can change their minds?
A Yellow, a Blue, and a never-before-seen color might just save the day in this inspiring book about color, tolerance, and embracing differences. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
I am (not) Scared! by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
A silly, fast-paced read-aloud about friends braving the amusement park together. (These two remind me of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie– but for a younger crowd.) A great text to encourage younger children to explore and identify their feelings. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Tea With Oliver by Mika Song
Oliver is not like other cats. He likes cookies and tea and just wants a friend to share them with.
Philbert is the shy mouse who lives under Oliver’s couch. He tries to get Oliver’s attention by writing him notes, but Oliver doesn’t notice little Philbert. When a full-on cat party erupts at Oliver’s apartment, brave Philbert decides this is his big chance to finally introduce himself to Oliver. [picture book,, ages 4 and up]
Is Mommy? by Victoria Chang, illustrated by Marla Frazee
In this irreverent, hilarious, and charming picture book, award-winning poet Victoria Chang and celebrated artist Marla Frazee show that all toddlers love their mommies—no matter what. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Burt’s Shirts by Surjit Kaur, illustrated by Pedro Demetriou
Wallpaper by Thao Lam
A little girl has moved to a new house. She hears children outside inviting her to play but she’s too shy to join them. Inside her new room, she peels back a corner of the wallpaper and discovers a wondrous world of animals including a monster. When she ends up befriending the monster, she is inspired to return to the real world and make new friends. [wordless picture book, ages 4 and up]
Door by Jihyeon Lee
Behind a door is another magical world to be discovered that embraces diversity. [wordless picture book, ages 4 and up]
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends―and why it’s worth the journey. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Peach Heaven by Yangsook Choi
The white peaches grown in Puchon are the best in all South Korea, and a rare treat for a little girl who lives in the town. She dreams of a peach orchard where she can play and eat as much of the delicious fruit as she wishes. Then one day, after weeks of heavy downpours, the sky begins to rain peaches. Yangsook finds herself in peach heaven – until she remembers the farmers who have lost their harvest, and decides she must help them. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illustrated by Christina Forshay
Mei Mei s grandpa is practicing tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei enthusiastically does them with her own flair. Then Mei Mei takes a turn, trying to teach Gong Gong the yoga she learned in school. Will Gong Gong be able to master the stretchy, bendy poses? Winner of the LEE & LOW New Voices Award, this title celebrates, with lively spirit and humor, the special bond between grandparent and grandchild and the joy of learning new things together. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Down By The River by Andrew Weiner, illustrated by April Chu
One beautiful autumn day, Art sets out with his mother and grandfather for a fishing trip. Fishing days are Art’s favorite. He loves learning the ropes from Grandpa—the different kinds of flies and tackle and the trout that frequent their favorite river. Art especially appreciates Grandpa’s stories. But, this time, hearing the story about Mom’s big catch on her first cast ever makes Art feel insecure about his own fishing skills. But, as Art hooks a beautiful brown trout, he finds reassurance in Grandpa’s stories and marvels in the sport and a day spent with family, promising to continue the tradition with his own grandkids generations later. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Pizza Day by Melissa Iwai
On a sunny, summer day, a young boy and his father assemble the ingredients for a homemade pizza. From gathering fresh garden herbs to rolling out the dough for a crust to spreading on sauce and cheese, this picture book leads young chefs step-by-step through the process of making a favorite meal. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
An Eagle’s Feather by Minfong Ho
An Eagle’s Feather is based on a story of hope written by the Philippine Eagle Foundation to raise awareness and care for the critically endangered, majestic Philippine Eagle, the national bird of the Philippines. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Philippine Eagle Foundation, this story was written into this book by Minfong Ho, award-winning author of Hush! A Thai Lullaby. Illustrator Frances Alvarez beautifully captures rural Philippine culture and the powerful spirit of this powerful bird with powerful, evocative art in this very special book designed to capture attention for the plight of this incredible creature both in the Philippines, as well as on the world stage. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau
Use this charming picture book to celebrate Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. It explains the customs in this fun adventure pitting Xingling’s wits against the Nian Monster. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea by Frances and Ginger Park, illustrated by Debra Reid Jenkins
This haunting picture book tells the difficult story of a young girl who leaves North Korea to meet her father on the other side. While she makes it across to safety at the 38th parallel, her mother is not able to get out in time. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Crane Girl by
This book is a kind of Japanese Rumplestiltskin folk tale about friendship and the power of kindness. [folk tale picture book, ages 6 and up]
Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
This book reads like an India folk tale about a princess who is blind and mute. It’s a fierce tiger that inspires her to talk. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young
Rendered in exquisite mixed-media collage, Caldecott Medalist Ed Young’s deceptively simple fable is a deeply affecting tale about appreciating the value of treasures that need not be chased. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon
When curious little Penguin finds a lost pinecone in the snow, their friendship grows into something extraordinary! But Grandpa reminds Penguin that pinecones can’t live in the snow–they belong in the warm forest far away. Can Penguin help Pinecone get home? And can they stay friends, even if they’re miles apart? [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Count My Cupcakes 1 2 3 by Joyce Wan
Learn to count from one to five in this rhyming board book featuring colorful disappearing touch-and-feel cupcakes! It’s an eye-catching extension of Joyce Wan’s adorable cupcake book with delectable spreads of irresistibly chubby, yummy characters, including a cup of cocoa, a rolling donut, and lots and lots of cupcakes. And at the end of the story you can’t help but giggle and laugh with your little one as you practice counting down from five to one and back again. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Shine! by illustrated Patrick McDonnell, illustrated by Naoko Stoop
A shining new picture book about learning to appreciate the wonders in your world and within yourself, by New York Times bestselling author Patrick McDonnell and Naoko Stoop, creator of Red Knit Cap Girl, a New York Times Best Illustrated book. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Little Tree by Muon Van
A gentle allegorical picture book about the refugee experience. When the Little Tree sees the world around her narrowing, she worries about what life will be like for her Little Seed. She decides to take the biggest risk of all, and let Little Seed find a richer life on her own. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh
Thursdays are the favorite day for a grandfather and his granddaughter. As he goes about his usual routine of drinking tea, watering his plants, and going to town for his favorite lunch, he adds another order to share. I found it a little confusing that the grandfather is referred to as “papa,” but the illustrations depict a kindly older gentleman. I really love the cut-paper illustrations. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Chirri & Chirra on the Town by Kaya Doi, translated from Japanese by David Boyd
There is an old-fashioned charm to this series. Two little girls have these gentle adventures that remind me of Pokemon without the actual Pokemon characters. They follow the sound of Chirri-Chirraa and each stop leads them to new friends and experiences. This is a kind of adventure that you can have in Japan or in the Pokemon world. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Up Down Inside Out by JooHee Yoon
The illustrations utilize just two colors but still manage to drama and excitement. The storyline takes common sayings and adds in odd-looking characters. There’s more visual interest with pages that flip up and die-cut pages that flip over. Kids will enjoy learning about common sayings accompanied by quirky illustrations. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Recent Nonfiction Picture Books by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Secret World of Butterflies by Courtney Sina Meredith
Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet, do a dark red poo when they come out of their chrysalises and that some drink the tears of crocodiles? How does the world look to them, do they ever sleep, and how are some of them able to fly so high? This book, covering all sorts of international butterflies, will open your eyes to these magical creatures around us. [nonfiction picture book, ages 3 and up]
Cook Island Heroes by David Riley, illustrated by Michel Mulipola
Cook Islands Heroes presents inspirational stories of achievers who have Cook Islands ancestry. It includes:
•legends like Ina, Maui, Ngaru and Ru
•historical figures such as Pa Tuterangi Ariki/Sir Thomas Davis, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Mautara and Margharet Matenga
•contemporary heroes like Lima Sopoaga, Mīria George, Dr Kiki Maoate, Kevin Iro, and Teremoana Rapley
Readers will be inspired as they discover the challenges these figures faced and overcame, to be among the greats in their chosen fields.
David Riley, the author of Cook Islands Heroes, is a high school teacher based in South Auckland, New Zealand. Illustrations by Auckland-based artist Michel Mulipola help bring the stories to life.
This is the fourth book in a series on Pacific heroes. The first book, We Are the Rock, focussed on Niuean achievers. It was followed by Samoan Heroes and Tongan Heroes. [nonfiction chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Pa and the Dolphins by Jillian Sobieska
“A True Story of Pa, Rarotongan Hero and His Return Journey to Tahiti”. Pa and the Dolphins is a wonderful children’s book based on actual events. The story follows Cook Island legend Pa Teuruaa who was the first person to successfully swim from Rarotonga to Tahiti, to connect to his ancestors.” [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
This spectacular picture book about the Grand Canyon won a Caldecott Honor and Silbert Award, both well deserved. Explore the Grand Canyon and learn about the ecosystem, trails, and more in this riveting nonfiction adventure. [nonfiction picture book, ages 6 and up]
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and
Combining Fred Korematsu’s story with a history of that time including photographs and side panels puts his heroism into context. This is an extremely well-done book with a cover that does not do it justice. I gifted my copy to Dr. Eugene Gu, a civil rights activist in Tennessee who also facing racism. [nonfiction picture book, ages 8 and up]
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by
Yukari Reads on Instagram gave me the heads up on this one.
Chef Roy Choi calls himself a “street cook.”
He wants outsiders, low-riders,
kids, teens, shufflers and skateboarders,
to have food cooked with care, with love,
with sohn maash.
“Sohn maash” is the flavors in our fingertips. It is the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade foods. For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles? [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say
James Castle was born two months premature on September 25, 1899, on a farm in Garden Valley, Idaho. He was deaf, mute, autistic, and probably dyslexic. He didn’t walk until he was four; he would never learn to speak, write, read, or use sign language.
Yet, today Castle’s artwork hangs in major museums throughout the world. The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened “James Castle: A Retrospective” in 2008. The 2013 Venice Biennale included eleven works by Castle in the feature exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace.” And his reputation continues to grow. [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep
Among Duke Kahanamoku’s many accomplishments is his invention of the now ubiquitous flutter kick used in freestyle (or Australian crawl) swimming. As a young, untrained swimmer, Duke set records that officials refused to acknowledge. He would go on to win Olympic medals in Sweden and again in Belgium and Paris, but it was his contribution to surfing that he is best known for. As the Father of Modern Surfing, Duke introduced Hawaii’s sport of the ancient Kings to the world and remains a testament to the aloha spirit. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
Earthwaves by Michael Smith, illustrated by Gayle Garner Roski
There aren’t enough books about Pacific Islander seafarers who, thousands of years ago, charted the Pacific Ocean with superior navigation skills that relied on observation of the nuances of the natural world. Akela and his grandfather set off on a long journey across the sea to trade with friendly islanders. It’s a dangerous journey where Akela can learn navigation from his Grandfather and also about the larger world around them including other explorers that come with bad intentions. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems by
This latest book in The Poetry Friday Anthology series offers 12 poems per month and 12 poems with the theme of “Birthdays and Baby Days” PLUS “Take 5!” mini-lessons for teaching and sharing skills and standards such as the CCSS and the TEKS. In addition, each poem is linked to a picture book recommendation and other poems in the book for text-to-text connections. Choose your favorite celebrations for each month! [poetry anthology, ages 4 and up]
Leveled Readers by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Lily’s New Home by Paula Yoo
Leveled readers are not my favorite books to read. The simplicity of the words often leads to boring stories. I prefer Paula Yoo’s picture book biographies on Olympic diver Sammy Lee and Hollywood star, Anna May Wong. There are very few diversity easy readers though, so it’s a nice addition to a very short list. [easy reader, ages 4 and up]
Recent Chapter Books by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic
Jasmine Toguchi goes through friendship and sibling issues with spunk, humor and heart in this perfectly paced early chapter book series starring a Japanese American. Fans of Clementine and Ivy and Bean will love this series. [early chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
Alvin Ho: Allergic to The Great Wall, The Forbidden Place, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look
My son and I love this hilarious series about a boy with a few phobias and his motley crew of interesting friends. [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Sherlock Sam series by A. J. Low
This new series features a boy who lives in Singapore, solves mysteries, and loves food. It’s a good combination for me! With humor provided by an annoying older sister, my son can relate to Sam! [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Recent Middle Grade by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is a Classic by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Cilla is a spunky heroine with relatable problems: new sibling, best friend squabbles, and scared of the dark. But she also brings something new to the table that characters like Ramona or Clementine do not. The questions from strangers because of her racial ambiguity, tensions between in-laws perhaps due to her parents’ mixed-race marriage, and how food is the great bridge between cultures. This is not a middle grade book for just mixed-race kids. This is a book for any kid, but mixed-race kids will especially appreciate Cilla’s perspective.
The sequel to Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire starts with a Chinese New Year celebration at Chinatown. Cilla dresses in red, receives a red envelope, distributes good luck oranges throughout the house, watches a lion dance parade, and eats a mooncake. This is her year to be a big sister, overcome her fears, be more “Chinese,” and participate in her aunt’s wedding as a flower girl. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh
I had trouble attaching to this character but I think that it’s just me. Bea was a little to passive for me without a strong enough personality in this coming of age middle school story of a girl adrift both at school as her friendships shift and at home, as she becomes a big sister. Some of the story threads didn’t feel realistic to me like the note hiding and discomfort being a big sister given that the age gap is twelve or thirteen years. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Step Up To the Plate Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami
Maria Singh is half Mexican, half Indian battling sexism and racism during WW2 in central California as her teacher forms a new softball team at school despite limited support including Maria’s parents. This mixed race combination is based on a little-known chapter of American history set in a community whose families made multicultural choices before the word had been invented because of mixed-race laws at the time. Uma Krishnaswami draws the reader into this world such that you feel like you are at an exciting ball game where you scream your head off. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Wing and Claw: Beast of Stone by Linda Sue Park
Raffa Santana is a healer, not a fighter. As a gifted apothecary, he has amazing instincts for unleashing the potential of magical-seeming plants. But his skills have failed to free the animals that the heartless Chancellor captured and turned against the people of Obsidia—directly threatening Raffa’s friends and family.
Now Raffa and his ragtag group of allies are preparing to confront the Chancellor’s armies in battle. Great beasts, small animals, and humans alike will be joining the fight, and Raffa’s heart yearns to prevent injuries—and worse—on both sides of the battle. After all, the Chancellor’s creatures will be fighting against their will. Can Raffa’s instincts for apothecary arts bring a tolerable resolution to an impossibly unfair fight? [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang
I really liked this clue solving adventure set in modern day China. It’s a “Pirate
Treasure Map Meets Ancient Chinese Hidden Treasure” epic quest that Mia Chen and her older brother must solve in order to find their missing Aunt Ling. Time is running out as her Aunt’s nemesis, Ying, is on the trail too. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Deathstrike: Ultraball #2 by Jeff Chen
The stakes are extreme in the second book of Jeff Chen’s futuristic, action-packed Ultraball series. Win-or-lose turns into life-or-death in this thrilling middle grade adventure tailor-made for sports and sci-fi fans. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
Winner of the 2019 Costa Children’s Book Award!
In contemporary India, 12-year-old Asha will journey across the dangerous Himalayas to find her missing father and save her family’s home — guided by a mythical bird and a green-eyed tiger who she believes to be the spirits of her ancestors. This is an incredibly unique debut about loss, family, buried treasure, and hope. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.
Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.
Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.
Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams? [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Henry feels like his family is much too overprotective. He is also hiding a secret from his best friend Phoebe, so when his trip to go to Singapore to spend time with his father is canceled, he feels a need to leave Australia. To prove that he’s not a baby, he manages to get himself on a flight, which the help of Phoebe, who manages to hide his whereabouts from his older sister, who is supposed to be keeping tabs on him. Told in a mixture of pictures and text, we find out that Henry has started an online web comic that has lots of views… and which is very mean to the vast majority of the people he draws, including Phoebe. When a boy from school who knows that Henry is behind the comic is on the same plane, Henry’s anxieties ramp up and cause him difficulties during his journey.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.
Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee
Sword-wielding Katana isn’t like most high school students—but with classmates like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Supergirl, Super Hero High isn’t like most high schools!
In addition to training to be a super hero, Katana also follows the noble warrior traditions of the Samurai. Now a mysterious presence has given her the responsibility of guarding a hundred ancient Samurai swords—but why her, and for what purpose? With the help of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Ms. Martian, and some of her other super friends, she intends to find out. But she just made captain of the fencing team, she has a huge school project due, and a villain with ties to her family’s past seems to be amassing an army. Maintaining her inner peace isn’t going to be easy . . . [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Aru Shaw and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
This is the first series by Rick Riordan Presents and it does not disappoint. It’s a Hindu themed “Percy Jackson” with requisite humor, half-gods, and cross country travel adventure to save the world. [chapter book ages 8 and up]
The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio
The Tiny House movement, Filipino culture, and the need for a place to call home intersect in this pitch perfect middle grade chapter book. Lou Busolan-Nelson is a mixed race Filipina character that will steal your heart. She thinks that if she can use her woodshop skills to build a tiny house on the tiny piece of land in San Francisco that she inherited from her father, it will keep her mother from moving them to Seattle. Infused with Filipino culture including food and dance, this book will leave you hungry for more (and pancit and adobo.) [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My son and I are reading this right now.
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta
A Sci-Fi fantasy adventure featuring Kiranmala, a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey, who finds her parents missing and a rakkhosh demon in her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out the mythological stories her parents were true and she’s a princess who must go into a different dimension to save them. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
This was my son’s assigned rising 7th grade summer reading book. My son liked the first half of the book which is about 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s road trip from Colorado to New Mexico for a rocket launch event with his small and very afraid dog. The story is told through Alex’s voice by way of recordings and it also indicated to me that perhaps Alex has Asperger’s Syndrome. We know that it’s just Alex and his mom at home and there is something not quite right with her as Alex is the primary caretaker for both of them.
It’s at the rocket launch event that Alex meets two fellow competitors that help him get to the next leg of his journey. It’s here where my son loses interest in the story. Cheng introduces more adult characters at each new location in the book, with each having a backstory that somehow winds together with rest of the plot. Newbery judges like this complicated lines of plot that intersect for a satisfying ending, but my son did not. He had trouble keeping track of everyone and really didn’t care for a nearly-all adult cast. If you compare this to Riordan books which he loves, this book lacks the humor, the adventure, the special powers, and, most of all, the “kids-on-a-quest-doing-it-by-themselves” element. It was tough slogging to make my son finish the book and I did all the reading to him aloud!
I think while some have this book on the short list for Newbery, there is just too much going on in terms of adult characters, plot twists, and mental health challenges for a middle school audience. For a road trip book, I’d probably recommend Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech instead. My son would recommend The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex instead. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
This is Just A Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy.
That includes his friend Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate — and David’s best friend — Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turn south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
I like a chapter book with a surprise twist. This starts off as a Korean American story of Chloe Cho, your average Tiger Cub who plays violin well, gets good grades, and is an exemplary student. But then things change. Why? I can’t tell you. But this is a twist on the Model Minority Asian American stereotype, and it’s funny to boot. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Reflection: A Twisted Tale by Elizabeth Lim
Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari
Sheela Chari’s second mystery for kids ages 10 and up combines graffiti art, parkour, Indian American characters, diamond smuggling, and family secrets. It’s set in Yonkers, NY and is a fast-paced urban page turner. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Checked by Cynthia Kadohata
Hockey is Conor’s life. His whole life. He’ll say it himself, he’s a hockey beast. It’s his dad’s whole life too–and Conor is sure that’s why his stepmom, Jenny, left. There are very few things Conor and his dad love more than the game, and one of those things is their Doberman, Sinbad. When Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, Conor chooses to put his hockey lessons and practices on hold so they can pay for Sinbad’s chemotherapy.
But without hockey to distract him, Conor begins to notice more. Like his dad’s crying bouts, and his friend’s difficult family life. And then Conor notices one more thing: Without hockey, the one thing that makes him feel special, is he really special at all? [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely.
The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time? [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim
I’m not big on corporal punishment for children so I had trouble reading about the caning that Li Jing receives from her new family she gains as a child bride. It’s a difficult and sad life but the magical realism that Celeste Lim weaves in gives her the hope of escape. Set in medieval China, it’s a kind of diversity Cinderella story. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Recent Novels in Verse by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War.
Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds. [novel in verse, ages 8 and up]
Recent Graphic Novels by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Supernova by Kazu Kibuishi
Emily has lost control of her Amulet and is imprisoned in the Void, where she must find a way to escape the influence of the Voice. Meanwhile, Emily’s brother, Navin, travels to Lighthouse One, a space station where the Resistance is preparing to battle the approaching Shadow forces that would drain planet Alledia of all its resources. Emily and Navin must be smarter and stronger than ever to ensure Alledia’s survival. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang
From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot! [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The Stone Heart (The Nameless City) by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire
My Chinese heritage is linked to the silk trade and I am fascinated by the Silk Road. This graphic novel brings the intrigue and adventure of the silk road to life.
Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself. [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
Recent Young Adult by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Lovely, Dark and Deep by Justina Chen
Thanks to her crisis-manager parents, she doesn’t just have to wear layers of clothes and a spaceship-sized hat. She has to avoid all hint of light. Say goodbye to windows and running outdoors. Even her phone becomes a threat. Viola is determined to maintain a normal life, particularly after she meets Josh. He’s a funny, talented Thor look-alike with his own mysterious grief. But their romance makes her take more risks, and when a rebellion against her parents backfires dangerously, she must find her way to a life — and love — as deep and lovely as her dreams. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie’s every waking thought. But when she discovers she’s a celestial spirit who’s powerful enough to bash through the gates of heaven with her fists, her perfectionist existence is shattered.
Enter Quentin, a transfer student from China whose tone-deaf assertiveness beguiles Genie to the brink of madness. Quentin nurtures Genie’s outrageous transformation—sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively—as her sleepy suburb in the Bay Area comes under siege from hell-spawn.
This epic YA debut draws from Chinese folklore, features a larger-than-life heroine, and perfectly balances the realities of Genie’s grounded high school life with the absurd supernatural world she finds herself commanding. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Warcross by Marie Lu
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Damselfly by Chandra Prasad
Their survival is in their own hands…Samantha Mishra opens her eyes and discovers she’s alone and injured in the thick of a jungle. She has no idea where she is, or what happened to the plane taking her and the rest of the Drake Rosemont fencing team across the Pacific for a tournament. Once Sam connects with her best friend, Mel, and they find the others, they set up shelter and hope for rescue. But as the days pass, the teens realize they’re on their own, stranded on an island with a mysterious presence that taunts and threatens them. Soon Sam and her companions discover they need to survive more than the jungle… they need to survive each other. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Always and Forever Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Singing Bones by Shawn Tan
Wicked stepmothers, traitorous brothers, cunning foxes, lonely princesses: There is no mistaking the world of the Brothers Grimm and the beloved fairy tales that have captured generations of readers. Now internationally acclaimed artist Shaun Tan shows us the beautiful, terrifying, amusing, and downright peculiar heart of these tales as never before seen. [chapter book, ages 12 and up]
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
One of my favorite reads this year is You Bring the Distant Near. Mitali Perkins weaves a multi-generational tale of a family into a story that feels effortless, yet powerful. I think that’s why this book made the long list for many awards including The National Book Award. Each generation faces challenges of assimilation versus tradition, but the bonds of family stretch but never break. This novel has it all: romance, Indian culture, and the quest for self-identity. The best part is that it’s a epic story that is not a tome. Like a [Karthak] dancer, the reader follows the rhythm of these five women in a graceful dance that requires unseen structure, rules, and endurance. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
I really enjoyed this light romance YA novel between two Indian Americans at high powered Silicon Valley summer camp for young entrepreneur coders. Indian culture is seamlessly mixed in but it’s the romance and the relationships that draw you in. Dimple Shaw is trying to avoid getting set up by her family with the “perfect Indian husband” but it turns out that Rishi Patel believes in the Indian traditions of arranged marriage. Their first meeting is disastrous but Dimple learns that relationships and getting to know who people truly are is complicated. Great cover too! [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi
This YA book is clever but at times I wish it scaled back the cleverness to develop the characters. Still, halfway through the book, it balances out. It’s told through two points of view:
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.
Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other. [young adult, age 14 and up]
American Panda by Gloria Chao
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of going to college— an unusual aspiration for a girl living in British occupied India during World War II. Then tragedy strikes, and Vidya and her brother are forced to move into a traditional household with their extended family, where women are meant to be married, not educated. Breaking the rules, Vidya finds refuge in her grandfather’s library. But then her brother does something unthinkable, and Vidya’s life becomes a whirlwind of political and personal complications. The question is, will she be strong enough to survive? [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Kangaroo Too by Curtis C. Chen
Set in the same world as Waypoint Kangaroo, Curtis C. Chen’s Kangaroo Too is bursting with adrenaline and intrigue in this unique outer space adventure.
On the way home from his latest mission, secret agent Kangaroo’s spacecraft is wrecked by a rogue mining robot. The agency tracks the bot back to the Moon, where a retired asteroid miner―code named “Clementine” ―might have information about who’s behind the sabotage. [young adult, age 14 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.