Today marks the beginning of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a month-long celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The United States Congress originally introduced the holiday in 1977 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, but later expanded it to a full month in 1990. In honor of this celebration, I wanted to share a list of 31 picture books highlighting Asian American and Pacific American characters (one for each day).
Because the term Asian is so incredibly broad, I wanted to highlight the diversity within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community with this list. I have included books with characters who are Chinese American, Korean American, Vietnamese American, Indian, Pakistani, Hawaiian, and more.
I hope that this list will provide you and your young readers with a look into the many different cultures that make up the Asian American community, and an understanding of the unique aspects of each one.
So, without further ado, here are my choices for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
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“On the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. How will a group of Thai boys play soccer?
After watching the World Cup on television, a group of Thai boys is inspired to form their own team. But on the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. The boys can play only twice a month on a sandbar when the tide is low enough. Everything changes when the teens join together to build their very own floating soccer field.
This inspiring true story by debut author Scott Riley is gorgeously illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien. Perfect for fans of stories about sports, beating seemingly impossible odds, and places and cultures not often shown in picture books.”
“A companion to Kelkar’s The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, this picture book features a little girl named Bindu whose bindis connect her to family and help her find courage to compete in the school talent show.
This charming picture book is about a little girl who loves her bindis (and the many creative shapes they come in!). The bindis are also a connection to her Nani who lives in India. When Nani comes to visit Bindu and brings the bindis to her, it is just in time to wear something new to the school talent show. Bindu and Nani work together to shine their brightest and embrace their sparkle, even when they stand out from the crowd.”
For more information, be sure to check out the full review.
“Cora and Mama work together to cook up pancit for the family in this celebration of Filipino heritage and foods.
Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish.
With Mama’s help, Cora does the grown-up jobs like shredding the chicken and soaking the noodles (perhaps Mama won’t notice if she takes a nibble of chicken or sloshes a little water on the floor). Cora even gets to stir the noodles in the pot-carefully– while Mama supervises. When dinner is finally served, her siblings find out that Cora did all their grown-up tasks, and Cora waits anxiously to see what everyone thinks of her cooking.
Dorina Lazo Gilmore’s text delightfully captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage. With bright and charming illustrations by Kristi Valiant, Cora’s family comes alive as Cora herself becomes the family’s newest little chef.”
“When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
With spare, direct text by Minh Lê and luminous illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, this stirring picturebook about reaching across barriers will be cherished for years to come.”
Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady, Illustrated by Amiko Hirao (Bookshop | Amazon)
“A touching story about Japanese American children who corresponded with their beloved librarian while they were imprisoned in World War II internment camps.
When Executive Order 9066 is enacted after the attack at Pearl Harbor, children’s librarian Clara Breed’s young Japanese American patrons are to be sent to prison camp. Before they are moved, Breed asks the children to write her letters and gives them books to take with them. Through the three years of their internment, the children correspond with Miss Breed, sharing their stories, providing feedback on books, and creating a record of their experiences. Using excerpts from children’s letters held at the Japanese American National Museum, author Cynthia Grady presents a difficult subject with honesty and hope.”
“A 2018 Caldecott Honor Book that Kirkus Reviews calls “a must-read for our times,” A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event – a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son – and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art paired with Phi’s expertly crafted prose has earned this powerful picture books six starred reviews and numerous awards.”
“In this beautiful children’s picture book by Vivek Shraya, author of the acclaimed God Loves Hair, a five-year-old South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi, the red dot commonly worn by Hindu women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself.
Beautifully illustrated by Rajni Perera, The Boy & the Bindi is a joyful celebration of gender and cultural difference.”
“Though separated by language, age, and an ocean, a child and grandparent find common ground in this warm, witty picture book
Grandpa lives on the other side of the ocean.
He takes naps all the time. He eats different foods. He speaks an unfamiliar language. His house is the most boring place on Earth!
Or is it? A little time together just might reveal that Grandpa is also a great singer, an energetic sandcastle builder, and a troublemaker . . . just like his grandson!
With her signature warmth and humor, award-winning author-illustrator Hyewon Yum shares the challenges and joys of having a relative who lives far away—proving that even from across the ocean, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is a very special one.”
Be sure to check out my full review here!
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, Illustrated by Rebecca Huang (Bookshop | Amazon)
“When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, most girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. But her parents felt differently. Giving her a name meaning “Courageous Hero,” they encouraged her love of learning and science. This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism and racism to become what Newsweek magazine called the “Queen of Physics” for her work on beta decay. Along the way, she earned the admiration of famous scientists like Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer and became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honors.”
“Join the family, or ohana, as they farm taro for poi to prepare for a traditional luau celebration with a poetic text in the style of The House That Jack Built.
An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book
“This is the land that’s never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old, that reach through the water, clear and cold, into the mud to pick the taro to make the poi for our ohana’s luau.”
Acclaimed illustrator and animator Kenard Pak’s light-filled, dramatic illustrations pair exquisitely with Ilima Loomis’ text to celebrate Hawaiian land and culture.
The backmatter includes a glossary of Hawaiian terms used, as well as an author’s note.”
“An immigrant family embarks on their first camping trip in the Midwest in this lively picture book by Ambreen Tariq, outdoors activist and founder of @BrownPeopleCamping
Fatima Khazi is excited for the weekend. Her family is headed to a local state park for their first camping trip! The school week might not have gone as planned, but outdoors, Fatima can achieve anything. She sets up a tent with her father, builds a fire with her mother, and survives an eight-legged mutant spider (a daddy longlegs with an impressive shadow) with her sister. At the end of an adventurous day, the family snuggles inside one big tent, serenaded by the sounds of the forest. The thought of leaving the magic of the outdoors tugs at Fatima’s heart, but her sister reminds her that they can keep the memory alive through stories–and they can always daydream about what their next camping trip will look like.
Ambreen Tariq’s picture book debut, with cheerful illustrations by Stevie Lewis, is a rollicking family adventure, a love letter to the outdoors, and a reminder that public land belongs to all of us.”
If you want to learn more, check out my full review.
“Inspiration struck when Momofuku Ando spotted the long lines for a simple bowl of ramen following World War II. Magic Ramen tells the true story behind the creation of one of the world’s most popular foods.
Every day, Momofuku Ando would retire to his lab–a little shed in his backyard. For years, he’d dreamed about making a new kind of ramen noodle soup that was quick, convenient, and tasty for the hungry people he’d seen in line for a bowl on the black market following World War II. Peace follows from a full stomach, he believed.
Day after day, Ando experimented. Night after night, he failed. But Ando kept experimenting.
With persistence, creativity, and a little inspiration, Ando succeeded. This is the true story behind one of the world’s most popular foods.”
“In an endearing lullaby, a mother asks a lizard, a monkey, and a water buffalo to be quiet and not disturb her sleeping baby.”
“A warmhearted and tender true story about a young girl finding beauty where she never thought to look.
Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States.
When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother―a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth―who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most. Stunning illustrations from Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le bring this intergenerational tale to life.”
“A colorful journey of self-discovery and identity, this sweet, vibrant picture book follows young Leila as she visits her grandmother’s house for their weekly family dinner, and finds parts of herself and her heritage in the family, friends, and art around her.
Sometimes I’m not sure if I like being me.
When Leila looks in the mirror, she doesn’t know if she likes what she sees. But when her grandmother tells her the saffron beads on her scarf suit her, she feels a tiny bit better. So, Leila spends the rest of their family dinner night on the lookout for other parts of her she does like.
Follow Leila’s journey as she uses her senses of sight, smell, taste, touch to seek out the characteristics that make up her unique identity, and finds reasons to feel proud of herself, just as she is.”
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, Illustrated by Chris Sasaki (Bookshop | Amazon)
“An inspiring picture-book biography of animator Tyrus Wong, the Chinese American immigrant responsible for bringing Disney’s Bambi to life.
Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing–which he loved to do–but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime–and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgrounds of Bambi.
Julie Leung and Chris Sasaki perfectly capture the beautiful life and work of a painter who came to this country with dreams and talent–and who changed the world of animation forever.”
“Ayesha is excited to attend her cousin Ritu’s wedding. She can’t wait to dance at the baraat ceremony! But not everyone is happy that Ritu is marrying her girlfriend Chandni. Some have even vowed to stop the celebrations. Will Ayesha be able to save her cousin’s big day?
Centering Ayesha’s love for her cousin as much as it showcases Ritu and Chandni’s love for each other, this warmhearted debut from Ameya Narvankar celebrates the power of young voices to stand up against prejudice and bigotry.”
Check out the full review of this wonderful book here!
“An honest #OwnVoices story about growing up with a name that is unfamiliar to the kids around you, told with humor and heart by critically acclaimed author/illustrator Thao Lam
Even though it’s only four simple, familiar letters long, nobody can ever pronounce Thao’s name. She’s been called Theo, Tail, even Towel! But the teasing names―Tofu, Tiny, China Girl―are worse. Maybe it’s time to be someone else? Thao decides to try on a different name, something easy, like Jennifer.
It works, but only until she opens her lunchbox to find her mother’s Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn―Thao’s favorite! Now, it feels a lot more comfortable to be herself.”
“Meet Danbi, the new girl at school!
Danbi is thrilled to start her new school in America. But a bit nervous too, for when she walks into the classroom, everything goes quiet. Everyone stares. Danbi wants to join in the dances and the games, but she doesn’t know the rules and just can’t get anything right. Luckily, she isn’t one to give up. With a spark of imagination, she makes up a new game and leads her classmates on a parade to remember! Danbi Leads the School Parade introduces readers to an irresistible new character. In this first story, she learns to navigate her two cultures and realizes that when you open your world to others, their world opens up to you.”
“Six-year-old Bilal introduces his friends to his favorite dish—daal!—in this charming picture book that showcases the value of patience, teamwork, community, and sharing.
Six-year-old Bilal is excited to help his dad make his favorite food of all-time: daal! The slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia requires lots of ingredients and a whole lot of waiting. Bilal wants to introduce his friends to daal. They’ve never tried it! As the day goes on, the daal continues to simmer, and more kids join Bilal and his family, waiting to try the tasty dish. And as time passes, Bilal begins to wonder: Will his friends like it as much as he does?
This debut picture book by Aisha Saeed, with charming illustrations by Anoosha Syed, uses food as a means of bringing a community together to share in each other’s family traditions.”
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns (Bookshop | Amazon)
“Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.
Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.
An inspiring story by critically acclaimed zoologist Jess Keating about finding the strength to discover truths that others aren’t daring enough to see. Includes a timeline of Eugenie’s life and many fin-tastic shark facts!”
“In an evocative picture book brimming with the scents, tastes, and traditions that define a young girl’s summer with her grandmother, debut author Michelle Sterling and illustrator Aaron Asis come together to celebrate the gentle bonds of familial love that span oceans and generations.
For one young girl, summer is the season of no school, of days spent at the pool, and of picking golden limes off the trees. But summer doesn’t start until her lola—her grandmother from the Philippines—comes for her annual visit.
Summer is special. For her lola fills the house with the aroma of mango jam, funny stories of baking mishaps, and her quiet sweet singing in Tagalog. And in turn, her granddaughter brings Lola to the beach, to view fireworks at the park, and to catch fish at their lake.
When Lola visits, the whole family gathers to cook and eat and share in their happiness of another season spent together. Yet as summer transitions to fall, her lola must return home—but not without a surprise for her granddaughter to preserve their special summer a bit longer.”
“This lyrical, stunning picture book tells a story about learning to love and celebrate your Asian-shaped eyes, in the spirit of Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, and is a celebration of diversity.
A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.
Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.”
The Fearless Flights Of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, Illustrated by Julie Kwon (Bookshop | Amazon)
“Discover an inspiring picture book biography about Hazel Ying Lee, the first Chinese American woman to fly for the US military.
Hazel Ying Lee was born fearless—she was not afraid of anything, and the moment she took her first airplane ride, she knew where she belonged. When people scoffed at her dreams of becoming a pilot, Hazel wouldn’t take no for an answer. She joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. It was a dangerous job, but Hazel flew with joy and boldness.
This moving, true story about a groundbreaking figure will inspire young readers to challenge barriers and reach for the sky.”
Be sure to check out my full review for more information!
“A Korean-American girl celebrates food and family in this cheerful picture book about cooking with Mama by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park.
Bee-bim bop (the name translates as “mix-mix rice”) is a traditional Korean dish of rice topped, and then mixed, with meat and vegetables. In bouncy rhyming text, a hungry child tells about helping her mother make bee-bim bop: shopping, preparing ingredients, setting the table, and finally sitting down with her family to enjoy a favorite meal. The energy and enthusiasm of the young narrator are conveyed in the whimsical illustrations, which bring details from the artist’s childhood in Korea to his depiction of a modern Korean American family. Even young readers who aren’t familiar with the dish will recognize the pride that comes from helping Mama, the fun of mixing ingredients together in a bowl, and the pleasure of sharing delicious food. Includes author’s own recipe.”
“In this sweet and brightly illustrated picture book, Amy Wu must craft a dragon unlike any other to share with her class at school in this unforgettable follow-up to Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao.
Amy loves craft time at school. But when her teacher asks everyone to make their own dragon, Amy feels stuck. Her first dragon has a long, wingless body, stag-like horns, and eagle claws, but her friends don’t think it’s a real dragon. Then she makes dragons like theirs, but none of them feels quite right…None of them feels like hers.
After school, a story from Grandma sparks new inspiration, and Amy rounds up her family to help her. Together, can they make Amy’s perfect dragon?”
“The inspirational and little-known story of a dedicated teacher who coached Hawaiian swimmers all the way to the Olympics, beautifully told in simple rhyme.When the children of workers on a 1930s Maui sugar plantation were chased away from playing in the nearby irrigation ditches, local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto had an idea. He offered to take responsibility for the children — and then he began training them how to swim. Using his science background, Sakamoto devised his own innovative coaching techniques: he developed a strict practice regime for the kids, building their strength and endurance by using the ditch water’s natural current. The children worked hard under the dedicated Sakamoto’s guidance, and their skills improved. They formed a swim club and began to dominate in swimming events around the world. And then one day, the proud Sakamoto saw an impossible dream come true — Olympic gold!”
For more information, don’t forget to look at the full review!
“Newcomer Salma and friends cook up a heartwarming dish to cheer up Mama.
All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn’t know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers in her Welcome Home are happy to lend a hand—and a sprinkle of sumac.
With creativity, determination, and charm, Salma brings her new friends together to show Mama that even though things aren’t perfect, there is cause for hope and celebration. Syrian culture is beautifully represented through the meal Salma prepares and Anna Bron’s vibrant illustrations, while the diverse cast of characters speaks to the power of cultivating community in challenging circumstances. “
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Bookshop | Amazon)
“The bold story of Maya Lin, the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
You may be familiar with the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But do you know about the artist-architect who created this landmark?
As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”
“Priya lives in the United States and her family is from India. She feels the magic of the place her family comes from through her Babi Ba’s colorful descriptions of India–from the warm smell of spices to the swish-swish sound of a rustling sari. Together, Priya and Babi Ba make their heritage live on through the traditions that they infuse into their everyday lives.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala is a celebration of the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, the threads that connect each of us to our heritage, and the power of sharing our traditions with others.”
“Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How can Amira be in two places at once?
Just the thought of Eid makes Amira warm and tingly inside. From wearing new clothes to handing out goody bags at the mosque, Amira can’t wait for the festivities to begin. But when a flier on the fridge catches her eye, Amira’s stomach goes cold. Not only is it Eid, it’s also school picture day. If she’s not in her class picture, how will her classmates remember her? Won’t her teacher wonder where she is?
Though the day’s celebrations at the mosque are everything Amira was dreaming of, her absence at picture day weighs on her. A last-minute idea on the car ride home might just provide the solution to everything in this delightful story from acclaimed author Reem Faruqi, illustrated with vibrant color by Fahmida Azim.”
I hope you all enjoyed the list!
What are your favorite books to read and share for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month? Be sure to share any favorites I missed in the comments below!