Recommended Books Celebrating AAPI Heritage

May is Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month!

I’ve always been a reader. I used to get in trouble (nightly) for reading at the table. I have vivid memories of eating and simultaneously propping my book up against the bowl.

The thing is, with all those books I devoured and loved, there weren’t any books with kids that looked like me or had families like mine. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I vividly remember reading Blubber by Judy Blume and being flabbergasted that the main character’s best friend was named Tracy Wu. I mean, wow! A supporting role! Thank you, Judy Blume!

In doing research for our collection of AAPI Literature Activities, I found so many more stories, novels, and picture books for all ages that feature the kids and cultures of the AAPI community than were around when I was a kid. Below are the books we’ve highlighted in our newest unit, Literacy Activities for 13 AAPI Stories. These wonderful picture books teach lessons, provide positive representations of AAPI families, and are also at the heart, quality literature.

AAPI Traditional Tales

Mela and the Elephant

A Thai Tale by Dow Phumiruk

This sweet story about Mela teaches a lesson of kindness and giving without needing anything in return, even towards your little brother!

Dow Phumiruk is also an artist, and illustrated Titan and the Wild Boars and Maya Lin, both featured in our AAPI Unit for Grades 4-5.

Grades K-2

Two of Everything

A Chinese Fable by Lily Toy Hong

This classic tale is often used as an introduction to multiplication, but it’s also a hilarious story of a magical doubling pot that goes a little bonkers.

Grades K-3

The Green Frogs

A Korean Folktale by Yumi Heo

This silly story with adorable illustrations is about two naughty green frogs that always do the opposite of what they are told to do.

Yumi Heo also wrote other beautiful, simple stories such as One Afternoon and Ten Days and Ten Nights.

Note: Students may be sensitive to the death of the mother at the end. Like all books, read through before deciding to share it with your audience.

Grades K-2

AAPI Immigration Stories

The Lotus Seed

A Vietnamese Story by Sherry Garland

This gorgeous book tells the of the narrator’s grandmother, who escaped Vietnam and stole a lotus seed from the Imperial Garden to remember her native land. The language is simple but powerful and Tatsuro Kiuchi’s illustrations are beautiful.

Sherry Garland is the author of over thirty different books for children.

Grades 2-4

The Most Beautiful Thing

A Hmong Story by Kao Kalia Yang

This generational story has the narrator, Kalia, explaining the life of her grandmother in Laos and her journey to the United States. How much Kalia and her family love their grandmother is apparent on every page.

Kao Kalia Yang used her own experiences as a Hmong refugee to tell this story. Some of her other books for children are A Map into the World and The Shared Room.

Grades 1-4

Adjusting to a New Life

A Different Pond

A Vietnamese Story by Bao Phi

I love this one so much I put it in our AAPI units for both 2/3 and 4/5! In this story, the narrator gets up very early to accompany his father to fish for food. The story is told simply enough for younger readers to understand, but the ideas are complicated enough for older readers to consider.

Bao Phi is a spoken word artist as well as a writer.

Grades 2-4

The Name Jar

A Korean Story by Yangsook Choi

This story has been around since I was teaching (long, long ago) and still represents a complicated experience shared by many students. Unhei is new to the US from Korea, and no one in her class can pronounce her name. Her class makes her a name jar of suggestions for a new name, but in the end Unhei realizes she’d rather keep her own.

Yangsook Choi is a Korean-born author and illustrator. Some of her other books include Peach Heaven and New Cat.

Grades 2-4

Delicious Tales

I do have to say a little something about food books. As the pounds I’ve gained from quarantine can attest, I love food as much as the next person. So many cultural stories for kids are written around the central theme of eating together, because often that’s where all kinds of families gather and bond. Just a note of caution: if all the books you share with students are limited to food and cultural celebrations/holidays, it isn’t enough. For more about that, see my blog post on Teaching Responsively.

How My Parents Learned to Eat

A Japanese-American Story by Ina R. Friedman

This story is told from the point of view of a daughter, about how her parents met in Japan and tried to secretly learn how to eat (with chopsticks and knife and fork) to impress each other. The part at the end where the narrator explains why her family sometimes uses chopsticks and sometimes knife and fork is the best part.

Grades 1-2

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji

An Indian Tale by F. Zia

This is really two stories in one: the first is about Aneel and his grandfather, and the second is grandfather’s wild tale. This one is a lot of fun to read aloud.

This was the only book I could find by F. Zia, who is an elementary teacher also. I can imagine she might be a little busy right now!

Grades K-2

Cora Cooks Pancit

A Filipino Story by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore

This is a sweet story about little Cora who has been watching her mother and siblings cooking for a long time, but has always been stuck with the “kid jobs.” A recipe for Pancit is even included at the end.

This was the only book I could find by the author that was readily available. We hope she writes more!

Grades K-2

‘Ohana Means Family

An Hawaiian Tale by Ilima Loomis

This beautifully illustrated book is written in the style of “The House that Jack Built.” It tells the story of everything (and everyone) that contributes to preparing the poi for a luau.

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist based in Hawaii. Her other children’s books can be found here.

Grades K-2

Obviously, there are so many more examples of wonderful AAPI literature that were not featured in this set of curriculum. Some titles will be featured in our next curriculum unit for upper grade students. In the meantime, check out our latest unit on Japanese-American Internment for 4th-5th focusing on the book Fred Korematsu Speaks Up.

Students should see their faces and experiences reflected in the world around them as often as possible, including in the books we share with them. We’ve come a long way since Tracy Wu, but we still have much further to go.

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