Books for Kids Featuring AAPI Characters

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One of the ways I find most helpful to start meaningful discussions with my children about topics such as ethnicities, cultures, religions, equity, etc., is through literature. Often books find the words that my normally verbose self lacks. I try to be intentional about what I’m reading with my children and how characters are portrayed.

The podcast Teaching Hard History, specifically the episode about Teaching Slavery Through Children’s Literature, opened my eyes and gave me a set of tools to use when I peruse the library in search of children’s books. Here’s what I ask myself:

1. Who is telling the story? What is the focus?
2. (Looking at the illustrations): Who is centered? Who is off to the side? What are the facial expressions of the characters?
3. Focus not just on extreme (heroes/exceptionalism or pain/hardship). There is value in just reading books that have an AAPI, BIPOC, Latinx or other minority main character that doesn’t overcome a hardship or learn an important lesson, etc., Whiteness tends to be the unconscious default in stories about “normal” life.

Recognizing Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: 10 Books Featuring AAPI Characters for Kids

Since May is National Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I wanted to pull together some books featuring AAPI characters for kids — from picture books to chapter books (and even some recs for adults).

I scoured the internet and my own library for a roundup of children’s books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling and certainly doesn’t cover the breadth and diversity of the AAPI experience. I consider them a good starting point.

Note: While I’ve put age ranges, I really think any picture book works for toddlers through elementary schoolers. They might just take away different lessons from them. Chapter books and up really depend on the reading level/maturity of a child.

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.

01| The Twins’ Blanket by Hyewon Yum

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

This book features a set of twins who share everything and now have to figure out how “not to share” their beloved single blanket as they grow up and get beds of their own. The illustrations are simple and the facial expressions are very vivid. It’s an excellent book to discuss feelings and sharing, but what I also love about it is that while the twins are of Asian descent, that’s not the focus.

Age range: Preschool – lower elementary


02| No Kimchi For Me! by Aram Kim

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

This book is about a girl who doesn’t like kimchi, a staple of Korean food, but desperately wants to find a way to enjoy it so her brother stops calling her a baby. No Kimchi For Me! even includes a recipe for kimchi pancakes on the back, a fun activity for after reading. You could also read First Book of Sushi (a board book that introduces Japanese food) and then make these adorable Rice Cooker “Tamagoyaki” Totoros (Japanese-style omelets), by TME’s very own Emily Stoffel, of Pig & Quill fame. The book is geared towards toddlers/preschoolers, but the kitchen work could be for older kids, making it an ideal activity for multiple kids in different age ranges.

Age range: Preschool – elementary


03| Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas is the traditional Goldilocks tale with a twist, featuring Chinese New Year. Fun, festive and an excellent way to introduce a holiday to kids. For another classic with a twist, check out Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes, a retelling of how Ganesha came to help write the epic poem of Hindu literature, the Mahabharata.

Age range: Preschool – elementary


04| The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

I adore this book. It’s about a little girl who moves to America from Korea and instead of telling her new classmates her real name, she decides to create a “Name Jar” so they can make suggestions for her. I don’t want to give away everything, so I won’t (ha!). It is such a sweet book and a good reminder to children and adults alike that while it can be embarrassing to mispronounce someone’s name, it’s worth the effort to take the time to learn it correctly.

Age range: Elementary


05| Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

Similar to The Name Jar, this book is about a little girl who notices her eyes look different than her classmates. It’s a lyrical picture book in a similar vein to Matthew Cherry’s Hair Love in that it is a celebration of of our own unique characteristics. Babies as young as 6-months-old notice differences in people. Discussing and celebrating the things that make people unique lays a foundation for discussions about equity, anti-racism, etc.,

Age Range: Elementary


06| Grandmother School by Rina Singh

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

Technically Grandmother School takes place in India, but it is such a lovely book about the power of education and how it’s never too late to start one’s educational journey. I had to include it. Plus, the illustrations are vibrant and eye-catching.

Age Range: Elementary


07| Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Dow Phumiruk

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines is the story of Maya Lin, the visionary architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s an opportunity to focus on a remarkable Asian-American, but also to view the Vietnam War through a different lens.

Age Range: Elementary


08| Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

This is a chapter book that’s part of a larger series about Alvin Ho, a fearful second-grader who never says a word at school, but at home, he morphs into his alter-ego, “Firecracker Man.” It’s described as the perfect book for beginning and reluctant readers. If your child liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, definitely check this series out.

Age Range: Elementary


09| The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu focuses on a 6th grader named Lucy Wu, a Chinese-American girl who is ready to have the best year of her life — until her grandmother’s sister from China comes to stay, and shares a room with Lucy. It’s a book I got for my daughter — an 8-year-old who loves realistic stories that focus on kids around her age. She loved it so much she’s now working her way through her second book by the author.

Age Range: Older Elementary – Middle School


10| Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.
Image Source via Amazon

This is the first in a series of graphic novels about Abbie, a girl who is always in a crisis. Reminds me of the “big feels” girls go through around the ages of 8-12 (read my post here on a good puberty book recommendation for that). If your child prefers illustrations and graphic novels, this would be a great book for them featuring an AAPI character.

Age Range: Older Elementary – Middle School


A Few Adult Books Featuring An AAPI Point Of View

I couldn’t leave my mature readers/adults hanging! A few books I’ve read or have on my Goodreads list that are written by AAPI authors/perspectives: Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous (my heart, this book), Crying in H Mart and Fairest.

I scoured the internet & library for kids' books featuring AAPI characters. This is just a sampling & certainly doesn't cover the breadth + diversity of the AAPI experience.

With the rise in hate crimes, nationwide conversations of injustice, equity, equality and more, I’ve tried to be more intentional. I’ve found that books are a great way to open the door to different ideas, cultures, hobbies, etc., with my kids. When I don’t know where to start, there is usually a book for that. (I’d love to hear your favorites as well!)

Happy reading!

x, Meredith

18 COMMENTS

  1. The book “The Front Desk” is another good book for upper elementary/middle school kids. She has 2 books in the series.

  2. Thanks for this! Grace Lin writes and illustrates beautiful books, from picture to middle-grade, some set in the U.S. and some in Asia. For middle-grade kids (my twins are 9), her Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is great. For middle-grade I’d also second the rec for The Front Desk by Kelly Yang (this one skews a little older, I think – it was thematically a little advanced for my 3rd graders). My kids have also recently loved the graphic novels Stargazing by Jen Wang and Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. A couple of years ago they also loved Alvin Ho, as well as the Jasmine Toguchi series.

    • Writing all these down. My 2nd grader is becoming quite the little reader and I want to keep encouraging that and helping her find characters that don’t necessarily look like her.

  3. My son (whom we adopted from S. Korea when he was a baby) and I LOVED reading Bee-bim Bap when he was little. This terrific picture book written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Ho Baek Lee is adorable, but warning: it will make you very hungry.

  4. As an Asian-American, and just as a mom generally, I appreciate this article so much. Your descriptions of the books are lovely.

  5. More great books for middle graders include novels by Lisa Yee such as Milicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Won Flunks Big Time. And Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi series.

  6. I was also coming to recommend Grace Lin and ‘Where the mountain meets the moon’. It’s such a lovely book!!

  7. Great suggestions! The Name Jar is one of my favorites too! I also recommend Laxmi’s Mooch, a recent picture book that celebrates body positivity. It’s a few years old, but a wonderful book for older elementary/middle school is Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, about a Japanese-American family in Georgia in the 1950s.

  8. My daughter and I really enjoy Ruby’s Wish, by Shirin Yim. It’s about a girl growing up with all of her extended family, and one by one the other girls drop out of school but she wants to go to university. It is a true story of the author’s grandmother.

  9. Just going to throw in two of our faves from the past year or two. Another Grace Lin — Dumpling Days, which we read when Goose was 8. It’s the tale of Pacy from Connecticut who takes a trip with her family to Taiwan where their ancestors are — great for kids who may coming to terms with all the parts of their identity, but just fantastic overall. We LOVED it and looked forward to reading it every night; then Goose read it several times on her own afterwards. We also can’t recommend “Inside Out and Back Again” enough. It’s by Thanhha Lai, and covers the year 1975 and her family’s journey from Saigon to the US. She’s 10 (I think) at the time. It’s told in poetic verse and absolutely moving and gorgeous.

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