Books that share Asian American heritage
Good Morning China
by: Hu Yong Yi - (Roaring Brook Press, 2007) 32 pages.
It’s a typical morning in China and the park is filled with children engaged in all the usual activities. One rides a bicycle while another rests dreamily by the lotus pond. Some play badminton as others play cards. On one side of a tree, a child practices the traditional Chinese exercise tai chi while another child practices sword dancing on the other side. The easy-to-read sentences blossom through graceful illustrations that culminate on the last page, which folds out to reveal a sweeping bird’s-eye view of the entire park and all the children. It’s a gentle reminder of the universal truth that children are the same wherever they live.
Perfect for: All preschoolers and beginning readers.
Find Good Morning China at your local library.
by: Linda Sue Park, illustrated by: Ho Baek Lee - (Clarion Books, 2005) 32 pages.
Bee-Bim Bop — the name means “mix-mix rice” — is a traditional Korean rice dish of many items. This rollicking romp of a book is about cooking with mom, and includes a fun recipe for parents and children to try together.
Perfect for: Kids who like to learn about other cultures.
Find Bee-Bim Bop at your local library.
by: Bernard Ashley, illustrated by: Derek Brazell - (Crown, 1992) 32 pages.
This book makes a good read aloud for children just starting school. In his first week of school, a young boy watches other children master skills to the delight of the teachers. Young listeners will identify with the young boy as he tries to find something special he can do to show his new friends and to find a place in the group.
Perfect for: Thinking about — and starting discussions about — kids’ feelings about school.
Find Cleversticks at your local library.
Yoko Writes Her Name
by: Rosemary Wells - (Hyperion Books for Children, 2008) 32 pages.
When Yoko writes her name on the first day of school, she proudly writes in Japanese. But her classmates call her writing scribble. “She won’t graduate from kindergarten!” they tell each other gleefully. At first, Yoko is hurt and doesn’t want to go back to school. But in the end, her classmates realize they have a lot to learn, and that Yoko can help them. Readers will get a lesson on tolerance. Plus, the book has common words on the corner of each page in English and Japanese.
Perfect for: Kids learning how to make friends and get along with others in school.
Find Yoko Writes Her Name at your local library.
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth
by: Emily Haynes and Sanjay Patel, illustrated by: Sanjay Patel - (Chronicle Books, 2012) 40 pages.
Eye-popping, colorful illustrations will enthrall children as much as this fun re-mix of the story about the Hindu God Ganesha. Growing up, Ganesha was like any other kid, except that he had an elephant’s head and rode a magical mouse. Like most children, Ganesha loved sweets, especially laddoo, a traditional Indian dessert. One day he found a “Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Laddoo!” Ganesha didn’t listen when Mr. Mouse warned him not to bite into it. “I’m a god,” he said. “I’m invincible.” Then, “Snap!” he broke a tusk. Ganesha was embarrassed. Mr. Mouse tried to reassure him that all children lose their teeth, but Ganesha was angry. He threw his tusk and accidentally hit the poet Vyasa. The wise poet told Ganesha that the tusk was special and asked him to use it to write down a poem he recited. That poem, called the Mahabharata, has 100,000 verses and is the longest epic ever written.
Perfect for: Introducing a new religion to kids.
Find Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth at your local library.
by: Jane Bahk, illustrated by: Felicia Hoshino - (Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2015) 32 pages.
Juna and her best friend, Hector go on adventures and collect the treasures they find in an empty kimchi jar. One day, Hector moves away without getting the chance to say goodbye, leaving Juna sad and lonely. With the support of her older brother, Juna finds comfort in her special jar, which she dives into at night to go on adventures in search of Hector. As Juna swims the depths of the ocean and swoops over the city, she gets the chance to mourn her missing friend and make new friends. Young readers will love the chance to help Juna in her search, as there is a secret tribute to Hector hidden on every page. A moving look at friendship and loss.
Perfect for: Any child who misses a friend.
Find Juna’s Jar at your local library.
King for a Day
by: Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by: Christine Kromer - (Lee & Low Books, 2014) 32 pages.
On Basant, Malik wakes up early and excited. It’s the annual kite festival celebrating the coming of spring in Pakistan and neighboring countries. Really, it’s a battle of the kites. Their strings are coated with powdered glass designed to slice through opponents’ strings and send their kites tumbling to the ground. Sitting in his wheelchair on the roof of their house, Malik clutches his homemade kite, which he calls Falcon. As his sister raises Falcon toward the sky and jumps, Malik tugs the string and the kite leaps. He wants to win, to be king of Basant, but more than anything he wants to beat out the bully next door. The cruel boy throws stones at his sister and calls her names. At the end of the day, Falcon has captured both of the bully’s kites and many others in the contest. Malik is enjoying his victories when he hears yelling and sees the bully push a young girl to the ground and grab her kite. He grabs one of the bully’s kites and tosses it off the roof to the girl, who picks it up and dances down the street. The illustrations were done in mixed media collage giving texture and a three-dimensional feel to the action in the sky.
Perfect for: Sharing positive images of a child succeeding with a disability.
Find King for a Day at your local library.
by: Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by: Joanna Yardley - (Puffin Books, 1996) 32 pages.
Emi, a 7-year-old girl in Berkeley, California, is forced to relocate with her Japanese-American family to a World War II detention center. Laurie Madison, her Caucasian BFF, gives her a bracelet so she’ll always remember their friendship. Emi loses the gift when she cleans her family’s humiliating new home, a dirty horse stable. Initially sad, she soon realizes shiny objects aren’t necessary to keep loved ones warm in our hearts. Perfect twin themes of long-lasting friendship and social injustice are brought to life with watercolor images.
Perfect for: Kids separated from a good friend or loved one.
Find The Bracelet at your local library.
by: Andrew Clements, illustrated by: Tim Bowers - (Simon & Schuster, 2007) 40 pages.
Dogku is a clever and sweet little story about a stray dog who finds a loving home. Such plots are a staple of children’s literature and entertainment, but what sets this book apart is the method of telling the tale — each page is written in haiku. … For example, Clements writes: “Morning brings children/Hugs, licks, barking, and laughing./Warmer than sunshine.” The oil on canvas illustrations by Tim Bowers are just as warm and cheerful as the text. There is a helpful author’s note at the end of the book, giving a simple and enthusiastic explanation of haiku for the child reader. … A novel way for young children to experiment with language.
Perfect for: Kids who like making friends.
Find Dogku at your local library.
Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog
by: Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by: Yan Nascimbene - (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) 32 pages.
Based on a true story, this touching tale pays tribute to a dog named Hachiko, who waited for nearly 10 years at a Tokyo train station for his master, who never returned. Also tells about the bronze statue in Shibuya Station in Japan and the festival that is held every April, honoring this incredible canine.
Perfect for: Kids who like adventure stories.
Find Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog at your local library.
Sam and the Lucky Money
by: Karen Chinn, illustrated by: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu - (Lee & Low Books, 1997) 32 pages.
For Chinese New Year, Sam receives the traditional token of a red envelope with money. While out with his family, with the money burning a hole in his pocket, he sees a homeless man with no socks on his feet and no food to eat. Sam realizes that the right, lucky thing to do is to use his money to buy the man some socks.
Perfect for: Kids who like realism stories.
Find Sam and the Lucky Money at your local library.
Baseball Saved Us
by: Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by: Dom Lee - (Lee & Low Books, 1993) 30 pages.
Children will love this moving tale in which hope triumphs over evil. In this picture book, a young boy tells the story of his parents’ internment in a camp for Japanese Americans in 1942. Despite the deplorable conditions in the camp, the prisoners use an improvised baseball game to keep their hope alive.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find Baseball Saved Us at your local library.
by: Leslea Newman, illustrated by: Machiyo Kodaira - (Henry Holt, 2004) 96 pages.
This Japanese story of a dog whose devotion inspired a nation is an ideal bridge from picture books to chapter books. Short illustrated chapters, author’s notes, and a glossary honor a faithful Akita that met the commuter train from Shibuya Station every afternoon for 10 years, patiently waiting for a master who never returned. Newman’s touching story can’t be read or heard without tears and a true understanding of the word ‘loyalty’.
Perfect for: Kids who like to learn about cultures.
Find Hachiko Waits at your local library.
The Thing About Luck
by: Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by: Julia Kuo - (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014) 304 pages.
Summer’s family is plagued with bad luck. When a family emergency sends her parents to Japan, Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left with their grandparents, who come out of retirement to harvest wheat and help pay the bills. As her family’s luck goes from bad to worse, Summer must figure out how to make it better. Like Kadohata’s Kira-Kira, this story explores the inner lives of tweens in a stark and sometimes heartbreakingly real world; but this story’s slow pace requires a patient appreciation for her nuanced characters and evocative settings.
Perfect for: Patient readers who enjoy reading lyrical, character-driven stories.
Find The Thing About Luck at your local library.
The Ancient Chinese
by: Jane Shuter - (Heinemann Library, 1997) 32 pages.
For 3,500 years, China’s recorded civilizations have shaped the world with valuable inventions and philosophies. This book delves into family life, society, politics, economics, culture, and famous thinkers in ancient China. In addition to data-packed text, the book includes maps and diagrams with colorful photographs and a bibliography of source materials.
Perfect for: Sinophiles who are interested in the Middle Kingdom.
Find The Ancient Chinese at your local library.
The Earth Dragon Awakes
by: Laurence Yep - (HarperCollins Publishers, 2006) 128 pages.
This story is a short, powerful example of historical fiction. Readers see the experiences of a wealthy white family and an immigrant Chinese family at the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. A subplot describes discrimination that is experienced and overcome.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find The Earth Dragon Awakes at your local library.
Gandhi: A March to the Sea
by: Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by: Thomas Gonzalez - (Two Lions, 2013) 40 pages.
In 1930, Mohandas Gandhi marched from his hometown to the Indian Ocean with 70 followers to protest the salt tax the British Empire had imposed on its colony. It was a 24-day walk. Gandhi’s brave activism created a nonviolent movement that ultimately led to India’s freedom. Lyrical verse and inspiring pictures capture the determined rhythm of the marchers. The book also delves into Gandhi’s transformation from shy boy to international leader.
Perfect for: Shy children who want to see justice in the world.
Find Gandhi: A March to the Sea at your local library.
by: Jean Fritz - (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1982) 176 pages.
Celebrated children’s author Jean Fritz turns her eye on her own childhood. Born in China of American parents, young Jean feels torn between her homesickness for the America of her grandmother’s letters and the devout love she feels for the Chinese people and their culture.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find Homesick at your local library.
Inside Out and Back Again
by: Thanhha Lai - (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013) 262 pages.
As the Vietnam War draws to a close, Ha and her family flee Saigon. Not only is Ha leaving the only home she’s ever known, she is also leaving her father, who went missing during the war. The family ends up in Alabama, where everything is unfamiliar and the kids at school tease Ha for her language and wardrobe blunders. This feisty character bravely makes her way, even as she aches for the warmth and vibrancy of the life she left behind.
Perfect for: Kids who like to learn about other cultures.
Find Inside Out and Back Again at your local library.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by: Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb - (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) 327 pages.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban, on a bus in Pakistan, when she was 15 years old, because she advocated for girls’ education. She survived. This inspirational autobiography describes how Malala’s home in the beautiful Swat Valley was taken over by extremists, portrays her courageous, tight-knit and supportive family, and depicts how a single committed individual can create positive change in the world. Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her charismatic personality infuses the book with compassion, humility, wit, and wisdom. Her bravery is clear but unassuming.
Perfect for: Kids with I-want-to-save-the-world idealism, those interested in Middle Eastern turmoil, those interested in modern history, and anyone who enjoys family adventures.
Find I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban at your local library.
Little Green: A Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution
by: Chun Yu - (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2015) 128 pages.
These eloquent remembrances of the Great Cultural Revolution from a 10-year-old girl’s viewpoint are engrossing. Born in the midst of Mao Tse-tung’s anti-bourgeoisie purge, the narrator witnesses rampaging Red Guards, fanatic indoctrination at workplaces, slogan-covered walls, and persecuted families terrorized by public humiliation and imprisonment. Chun Yu’s father is exiled to the countryside for “re-education” and her mother is targeted as a “counter-revolutionary.” The text includes both poetry and prose with black-and-white photos and an explanatory epilogue.
Perfect for: Chinese-Americans and readers interested in Chinese culture and history.
Find Little Green: A Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution at your local library.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
by: Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by: Ronald Himler - (Putnam, 1977) 80 pages.
This is a book to teach your child about the horrors of war and illness, but most importantly about hope. Based on a true story set in World War II Japan, Sadako attempts to carry out the legend that the crafting of 1,000 paper cranes would heal her disease. Young readers learn indelible lessons that will stay with them for life. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a stunning portrait of life, death and the power of courage.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes at your local library.
The Shadow Hero
by: Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by: Sonny Liew - (First Second, 2014) 176 pages.
This graphic novel tells the story of the Green Turtle, the pioneering Asian American superhero first introduced in the 1940s. Gene Luen Yang brings him back to life with this origin story that Batman and Superman fans will love. Hank Chu, the 19-year-old son of Chinese immigrant grocers, is exposed to toxic radiation and eventually lives up to his fate of becoming a World War II superhero by defending China, America’s ally, against the Japanese army.
Perfect for: Comic book fans who love a good origin story.
Find The Shadow Hero at your local library.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by: Grace Lin - (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011) 304 pages.
Minli lives with her family in the valley of the Fruitless Mountain. In the evenings, her father tells folktales, including one about the Old Man on the Moon, who holds everyone’s destiny. Inspired by her father’s tales, Minli decides to go on a journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him to change her family’s fortune. Along the way, Minli encounters magical creatures and makes new friends who accompany her on her adventure. Themes from Chinese folklore fuel this beautifully illustrated story.
Perfect for: Children who dream of mystical lands and epic journeys.
Find Where the Mountain Meets the Moon at your local library.
The Five Ancestors series
by: Jeff Stone - (Random House, 2005)
The hook: In this adventure series, we meet five foster brothers who were raised in a temple by warrior monks. When their temple is destroyed by one of their former brothers, the grandmaster orders them to uncover the secrets of their past. Now, each brother must use his skills and training to discover his own destiny and the truth behind their betrayal. Young martial arts fans will love the kung-fu-filled action in this fast-paced series, which nicely balances fighting with slapstick humor. When the boys split up, each book in the series follows a different brother’s adventures. A great series that is sure to lure kids away from video games.
Perfect for: Tweens who think they’d rather be gaming than read.
India’s Gupta Dynasty (Cultures of the Past)
by: Kathryn Hinds - (Cavendish Square Publishing, 1996) 80 pages.
The subcontinent’s “Golden Age” (320-550 A.D.) featured military expansion, benevolent rulers, public prosperity, and scientific, literary, artistic, and philosophical achievements. Packed with intriguing facts, this comprehensive volume offers portrayals of the dynasty’s highly respected monarchs (Chandragupta I, Samadragupta, Chandragupta II) and scholars (poet/playwright Kalidasa and mathematician/astronomer Aryabhata). It also exams Buddhist and Hindu influence on society and the role of women. It’s filled with beautifully illustrated with full-color reproductions of Gupta architecture, sculpture, and cave-temple paintings.
Perfect for: Indophiles and those interested in South Asian history and culture.
Find India’s Gupta Dynasty (Cultures of the Past) at your local library.
Japan in the Days of the Samurai (Cultures of the Past)
by: Virginia Schomp - (Cavendish Square Publishing, 1998) 80 pages.
The samurai “warrior class” — prominent in Japan from the medieval Heian Period to the 1860s — was made up of skilled soldiers, spies, assassins, and guards. These warriors also received aesthetic training in poetry, flower-arranging, and the traditional tea ceremony. This appealing presentation describes samurai culture and history and the influence of Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity on their beliefs. It includes sidebars on intriguing subtopics (famous samurai women and World War II kamikaze pilots for example). It’s all complemented by color reproductions, a timeline, glossary, and a reference list of book and websites.
Perfect for: Japanophiles. Boys are especially interested in these feudal, formidable “knights” of East Asia, but girls will like learning that there were samurai women.
Find Japan in the Days of the Samurai (Cultures of the Past) at your local library.
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
by: Ji-li Jiang - (HarperCollins, 2004) 320 pages.
This is a tragic, honest autobiography of a teenage girl’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution in China. Brainwashing and the cult-worshipping of Mao Tse-tung caused neighbors and friends to betray each other in the chaotic upheaval. The narrator’s family is relentlessly persecuted because her grandfather was a landowner, which made all his descendants guilty of the “Four Olds” — old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits. This is an expertly written, suspenseful page-turner with a wise assessment of the era’s fanaticism. It is memorable, psychologically complex, and thought provoking.
Perfect for: Anyone intrigued by political upheaval, the dangers of propaganda, this time in Chinese history, or an engrossing family story of survival.
Find Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution at your local library.
10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War
by: Philip Caputo - (Anthem Books for Young Readers, 2005) 128 pages.
This is an exciting chronology of the violent combat in Southeast Asia, from French colonial rule and the rise of Communism to the Tet Offensive and the Fall of Saigon. Antiwar riots in the U.S. are addressed, plus intriguing details are included on “tunnel rats,” Agent Orange, and the participation of women on the battlefield. Shocking statistics are presented: for instance, the U.S. Air Force dropped 6.2 tons of bombs on the small nation, almost three times the total bombs they dropped during World War II. Personal anecdotes from GIs and Viet Cong give a deeper look at the period, as do profiles of leaders (Ho Chi Minh, President Richard Nixon, Gen. William Westmoreland). Plus the book includes photographs, maps, a glossary and a bibliography. It is an accessible, articulate introduction to the “most unpopular war in U.S. history.”
Perfect for: Kids curious about more modern U.S. history, those curious about the Vietnam War, and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) of veterans.
Find 10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War at your local library.
Attack on Pearl Harbor: The True Story of the Day America Entered World War II
by: Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by: David Craig - (Scholastic Inc., 2002) 64 pages.
Four narrators provide riveting accounts of the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 350 Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet. An American seventh grade boy; a seaman on the USS Oklahoma, which was sunk by torpedoes; a Japanese submarine crewman, who was the first prisoner of war; and the commander of the Japanese fleet each offer their unique perspectives on the chaos of the event. Spectacular illustrations along with maps, diagrams, and informational sidebars add to the book’s appeal.
Perfect for: World War II buffs.
Find Attack on Pearl Harbor: The True Story of the Day America Entered World War II at your local library.
Farewell to Manzanar
by: Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston - (Ember, 2012) 240 pages.
Seven-year-old Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family were removed from their California home in 1942 and imprisoned in the Manzanar internment camp, a humiliating “desert ghetto.” More than 110,000 other Japanese-Americans suffered the same fate after Pearl Harbor because of national fears they would aid the new enemy. This poignant memoir offers delightful child’s eye details and insights on life in the camp. Even with barbed wire and armed guards, there were still sock hops, sports teams, and cheerleaders. However, the story recounts the family’s difficulty in rebuilding their lives after the war, the narrator’s awkward experiences attending an all-white school, and the disintegration of Japanese traditions in the family.
Perfect for: World War II aficionados, those interested in the Japanese-American experience during the war, those seeking a different perspective and angle on the time period.
Find Farewell to Manzanar at your local library.
by: Kathe Koja - (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) 128 pages.
In this young adult novel, Jinsen is bullied because of his dragon T-shirts, shaved head, and his religious lifestyle. Justin becomes his partner in a class project and starts to see Jinsen differently. Standing up for Jinsen complicates Justin’s life and his position in the social hierarchy of high school.
Perfect for: Kids who like realistic stories with a message.
Find Buddha Boy at your local library.
Gandhi, Great Soul
by: John B. Severance - (Clarion Books, 1997) 144 pages.
This biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi examines his dedication to liberating India’s 350 million people from British colonial rule. It looks at his nonviolent (satyagraha) philosophy, his non-materialism, his concern for the poor, his education in England, his formative experiences in South Africa, and his numerous arrests, demonstrations, and hunger strikes. How he influenced later activists such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. is also discussed. The book does not ignore criticisms the revered Mahatma received; for example, Gandhi’s wife remained illiterate all her life, and his sons claimed they were under-educated.
Perfect for: Anyone interested in social activist leadership, nonviolence as a philosophy and activism tool, and those interested in India’s history.
Find Gandhi, Great Soul at your local library.