20 Books to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Year Round

I’m sure many of you are aware that May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US. Last year, I celebrated by sharing a booklist at the beginning of the month, but this year I had something else in mind.

This year, I want to share a few titles that have crossed my desk recently, as well as a few releases I’m looking forward to. I hope this list inspires you to keep reading widely throughout the year, and remember that Asian American and Pacific Islander voices are important year-round, and not just during the month we celebrate them. So without further ado, here are 20 books to help you bring AAPI titles to the rest of your year, in no particular order.

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Gibberish by Young Vo

“It’s Dat’s first day of school in a new country! Dat and his Mah made a long journey to get here, and Dat doesn’t know the language. To Dat, everything everybody says – from the school bus driver to his new classmates – sounds like gibberish. How is Dat going to make new friends if they can’t understand each other?

Luckily there’s a friendly girl in Dat’s class who knows that there are other ways to communicate, besides just talking. Could she help make sense of the gibberish?”

I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story by Martha Brockenbrough and Grace Lin, Illustrated by Julia Kuo

“When American-born Wong Kim Ark returns home to San Francisco after a visit to China, he’s stopped and told he cannot enter: he isn’t American. What happens next would forever change the national conversation on who is and isn’t American. After being imprisoned on a ship for months, Wong Kim Ark takes his case to the Supreme Court and argues any person born in America is an American citizen.
 
I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story is an important picture book that introduces young readers to the young man who challenged the Supreme Court for his right to be an American citizen and won, confirming birthright citizenship for all Americans.”

Kesar and the Lullaby Birds by Aditi Oza, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta

Kesar’s baby sister Kamal will not sleep. Their entire village in the Great Rann of Kutch is kept awake by the infant’s cries and her parents are exhausted. When Kesar and Kamal’s ba comes to visit, her stories give Kesar a wonderful idea. Perhaps what Kesar needs to put her baby sister to sleep is a little bit of desert magic!

A vibrant celebration of traditional artisans from India, this picture book is a sweet sibling bedtime story at heart, featuring a big sister who figures out how to care for her baby sister with some help from her grandmother’s lovingly made gifts.

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome by Kat Zhang, Illustrated by Charlene Chua

Amy Wu does her best to make her new classmate feel welcome in this warmhearted and playfully illustrated follow-up picture book to Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao and Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon.

Amy’s class has a new student from China! Amy tries hard to make Lin feel included, but she can’t draw him out of his shell. Then she sees Lin chattering happily in Chinese with his family. The gears in her head start to turn, and a plan blossoms. Step one: invite Lin to her dumpling party…

​With a little help from her grandma and a shiny new banner, can Amy give Lin the warmest welcome?

Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country by Kelly Yang, Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, Fahmida Azim, Marcos Chin, Sally Deng, Shereya Gupta, Julia Kuo, Julie Kwon, Nhung Le, Kitkat Pecson, Dow Phumiruk, Sujean Rim, Dan Santat, Yuko Shimizu, Yuewei She, and Yao Xiao

From creating beautiful music like Yo-Yo Ma to flying to outer space like Franklin Chang-Díaz; from standing up to injustice like Fred Korematsu to becoming the first Asian American, Black and female vice president of the United States like Kamala Harris, this book illuminates the power of Asian Americans all over the country, in all sorts of fields.
 
Each spread is illustrated by a different renowned Asian American or Asian artist. Alongside the poetic main text, Yes We Will includes one-line biographies of the person or historical moment featured on the page, with extended biographies at the end. Readers of different ages and needs can use the book in different ways, from classroom discussions to bedtime readalouds and more.
 
Yes We Will answers the question, can we accomplish whatever we dream? With love, courage, determination, and lots of imagination, we can—and we will!

A Life of Service: The Story of Senator Tammy Duckworth by Christina Soontornvat, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Given Tammy Duckworth’s personal heroism as an Army veteran, her stunning recovery from injuries sustained in the line of duty, and her subsequent career as an influential US senator, it’s easy to see why Joe Biden earmarked her as a possible running mate during his Democratic presidential campaign. Senator Duckworth has logged a long list of firsts during her tenure as the first Thai American member of Congress, including being the first woman with a disability to serve in the House and Senate. But it is her tireless determination to keep going against staggering odds that will rivet readers of all ages. Christina Soontornvat’s narrative biography of this groundbreaking military veteran and rising political star will inspire readers to dream and achieve. Evoking Senator Duckworth’s spirited nature with sensitivity and joy, this dramatic account of a life lived in the service of others includes a time line and suggestions for further reading.

I Am Golden by Eva Chen, Illustrated by Sophie Diao

This joyful and lyrical picture book from New York Times bestselling author Eva Chen and illustrator Sophie Diao is a moving ode to the immigrant experience, as well as a manifesto of self-love for Chinese American children.

What do you see when you look in the mirror, Mei? Do you see beauty?

We see eyes that point toward the sun, that give us the warmth and joy of a thousand rays when you smile. We see hair as inky black and smooth as a peaceful night sky. We see skin brushed with gold.

Punky Aloha by Shar Tuiasoa

Punky loves to do a lot of things—except meeting new friends. She doesn’t feel brave enough.

So when her grandmother asks her to go out and grab butter for her famous banana bread, Punky hesitates. But with the help of her grandmother’s magical sunglasses, and with a lot of aloha in her heart, Punky sets off on a BIG adventure for the very first time.

Will she be able to get the butter for grandma?

Punky Aloha is a Polynesian girl who carries her culture in her heart and in everything she does. Kids will love to follow this fun character all over the island of O’ahu.

American Desi by Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Illustrated by Supriya Kelkar

A young girl longs to know where she fits in: Is she American? Or is she Indian? Does she have to pick or can she be both? With bright, joyful rhyme, and paired with an immersive art style using American and Indian fabrics, American Desi celebrates the experiences of young children growing up first and second generation Indian American: straddling the two cultural worlds they belong to, embracing all they love of both worlds and refusing to be limited by either.

This story is a powerful tribute to the joy of being South Asian and for every reader who aspires to bridge their worlds with grace, grit, and confidence.

Shapes, Lines, and Light: My Grandfather’s American Journey by Katie Yamasaki

Katie Yamasaki’s newest picture book celebrates the life of her grandfather, the acclaimed Japanese American architect Minoru Yamasaki.

Minoru Yamasaki described the feeling he sought to create in his buildings as “serenity, surprise, and delight.” Here, Katie Yamasaki charts his life and work: his childhood in Seattle’s Japanese immigrant community, paying his way through college working in Alaska’s notorious salmon canneries, his success in architectural school, and the transformative structures he imagined and built. A Japanese American man who faced brutal anti-Asian racism in post–World War II America and an outsider to the architectural establishment, he nonetheless left his mark on the world, from the American Midwest to New York City, Asia, and the Middle East.

This striking picture book renders one artist’s work through the eyes of another, and tells a story of a man whose vision, hard work, and humanity led him to the pinnacle of his field.

Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julie Kuo

Let’s Do Everything and Nothing is a lush and lyrical picture book from Julia Kuo celebrating special moments―big and small―shared with a child.

Will you climb a hill with me?
Dive into a lake with me?
Reach the starry sky with me,
and watch the clouds parade?

Love can feel as vast as a sky full of breathtaking clouds or as gentle as a sparkling, starlit night. It can scale the tallest mountains and reach the deepest depths of the sea.

Standing side by side with someone you love, the unimaginable can seem achievable.
But not every magical moment is extraordinary. Simply being together is the best journey of all.

Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX y Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura

The only picture book biography about unsung hero Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first Asian American woman elected to Congress.

From a young age, Patsy Takemoto Mink learned that striving for goals came with challenges. But she also learned to never give up. As the Japanese proverb says: fall down seven times, stand up eight.

That spirit helped Patsy through school. She wanted to become a doctor, but at the time, medical schools didn’t admit women. So Patsy carved her own path. She went to law school, ran for a seat in the United States Congress, and helped create Title IX, the law that requires federally funded schools to treat boys and girls equally. Although many people tried to knock her down, Patsy—a historic trailblazer who spent her life fighting for fairness—always got up again!

From award-winning author Jen Bryant and illustrator Toshiki Nakamura comes an inspiring picture book biography that brings Patsy Takemoto Mink’s incredible legacy to life.

Amah Faraway by Margaret Chiu Greanias, Illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Kylie is nervous about visiting her grandmother-her Amah-who lives SO FAR AWAY.
When she and Mama finally go to Taipei, Kylie is shy with Amah. Even though they have spent time together in video chats, those aren’t the same as real life. And in Taiwan, Kylie is at first uncomfortable with the less-familiar language, customs, culture, and food. However, after she is invited by Amah-Lái kàn kàn! Come see!-to play and splash in the hot springs (which aren’t that different from the pools at home), Kylie begins to see this place through her grandmother’s eyes and sees a new side of the things that used to scare her. Soon, Kylie is leading her Amah-Come see! Lái kàn kàn!-back through all her favorite parts of this place and having SO MUCH FUN! And when it is time to go home, the video chats will be extra special until they can visit faraway again.

Backmatter includes author and illustrator notes and a guide to some of the places and foods explored in Taiwan.

Hundred Years of Happiness by Thanhhà Lai, Illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

A stunning picture book debut, showcasing the love between grandparents and grandchildren, the challenges of memory loss, and the joy that sweet reminders of a faraway home can bring, from award-winning, bestselling author Thanhhà Lại.

This sweet and emotional picture book will resonate with readers who love A Big Mooncake for Little StarLadder to the Moon, and Thank You, Omu!

An’s grandmother Bà sometimes gets trapped in her cloudy memories. An and her grandfather, Ông, come up with a plan to bring her back to a happy moment: they grow gấc fruits so they can make xôi gấc, Bà’s favorite dish from her wedding in Việt Nam many years ago.

An and Ông work together in the garden, nurturing the gấc seeds. They must be patient and wait for the seeds to grow, flower, and turn into fruit. When the xôi gấc is finally ready, An is hopeful that her grandmother will remember her wedding wish with Ông: hundred years of happiness.

Striking and vivid illustrations bring this tender story of a loving, intergenerational Vietnamese family to life.

Middle Grade

In The Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo

For fans of Jasmine Warga and Thanhhà Lại, this is a stunning novel in verse about a young Taiwanese immigrant to America who is confronted by the stark difference between dreams and reality.

Anna can’t wait to move to the beautiful country—the Chinese name for America. Although she’s only ever known life in Taiwan, she can’t help but brag about the move to her family and friends.

But the beautiful country isn’t anything like Anna pictured. Her family can only afford a cramped apartment, she’s bullied at school, and she struggles to understand a new language. On top of that, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like her dreams. How will she be able to make the beautiful country her home?

This lyrical and heartfelt story, inspired by the author’s own experiences, is about resilience, courage, and the struggle to make a place for yourself in the world.

A Is for Asian American: An Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Alphabet

The fabric of America is made up of countless threads weaving together different backgrounds and cultures. Using poetry and expository text, A is for Asian American: An Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Alphabet celebrates the cultures of and contributions from Asian Americans throughout our country’s history. Letter topics include traditions in food, family, and social celebrations, as well as key moments in history and milestone achievements. A is for Asian American illuminates the amazing and ongoing role the Asian American community has played in the shaping of America. Front and back matter provides additional information, including a glossary.

The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

A fresh start. That’s all Evan Pao wants as he, along with his mother and sister, flee from California to Haddington, Virginia, hoping to keep his father’s notoriety a secret.

But Haddington is a southern town steeped in tradition, and moving to a town immersed in the past has its own price. Although Evan quickly makes friends, one boy, Brady Griggs, seems determined to make sure that as a Chinese American, Evan feels that he does not belong. When Evan finds a unique way to make himself part of the school’s annual Civil War celebration, the reaction is swift and violent. As all of his choices at home and at school collide, Evan must decide whether he will react with the same cruelty shown to him, or choose a different path.

Wendy Wan-Long Shang, the critically acclaimed author of Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award for Children’s Literature winner The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, weaves a timely and deeply moving portrait of all the secret battles Evan Pao must fight as he struggles to figure out how he fits into this country’s past and how he will shape its future.

We Are Here: 30 Inspiring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Have Shaped the United States by Naomi Hirahara, Illustrated by Illianette Ferandez

A stunning anthology licensed in partnership with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, We Are Here celebrates 30 of the most inspiring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in U.S. history.

There are more than 23 million people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent living in the United States. Their stories span across generations, as well as across the world. We Are Here highlights thirty Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the impact they’ve had on the cultural, social, and political fabric of the United States.

Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment by Lawrence Goldstone

In another unrelenting look at the iniquities of the American justice system, Lawrence Goldstone, acclaimed author of Unpunished Murder, Stolen Justice, and Separate No More, examines the history of racism against Japanese Americans, exploring the territory of citizenship and touching on fears of non-white immigration to the US — with hauntingly contemporary echoes.

Asian American Women in Science: An Asian American History Book for Kids by Tina Cho

Stories of amazing Asian American women who broke barriers in science—for kids ages 8 to 12

Kazue Togasaki was one of the first Japanese American women to become a doctor. Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American physicist who worked on top-secret projects. Isabella Aiona Abbott became an expert on the marine plant life of her native Hawaii. Asian American women are a huge part of scientific discovery, and this collection of biographies for kids explores 15 brilliant women, and how they used their intelligence and determination to overcome challenges and succeed.

Open up this Asian American children’s book and meet some of the scientists who helped:

  • Pave the way—Find out how people like inventor Alice Min Soo Chun and computer programmer Josephine Jue designed amazing new technology and spent time educating others.
  • Heal the sick—Learn about doctors like Joan Block and Jacqueline Whang-Peng who revolutionized how we treat diseases like hepatitis B and cancer.
  • Explore new worlds—Discover how botanist Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann and mathematician Angelita Castro-Kelly changed the way we think about outer space.

Dive into a world of inspiring women with this science-focused entry into Asian American books for kids.

Are you looking forward to any new releases that celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islanders throughout the remainder of the year? Be sure to share them in the comments!

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