15 Asian American Children's Books to Read As a Family Right Now
Studies show reading fosters empathy. However, a 2019 study published in The Frontiers of Psychology showed that reading alone isn't enough. The types of books matter, too. The study found that children's books help develop empathy the most when children read about and identify with characters dissimilar to themselves. Not to mention, it's also equally important for children to see themselves in the books they read.
But despite overwhelming research that reading diverse books is vital for fostering confident, empathetic kids, Asian American stories and other minority stories are still underpublished. According to The Cooperative Children's Book Center 2019 children's book survey, only 8.7 percent of children's books published in 2019 contained Asian or Asian American main characters. Meanwhile, 41.8 percent contained white main characters, and 29.2 percent contained animal main characters.
"Fear and misunderstanding of people who aren't like ourselves can have tragic and heartbreaking consequences, as we've seen recently with the rise in violence against Asians and Asian Americans," explains Asian American children's book author Andrea Wang. "Learning about different cultures fosters empathy and understanding, leading to a more just and peaceful world."
"The more stories kids read," author Mượn Thị Văn adds, "and the greater the variety of stories, the more kids will understand that life is not about me vs. you, or us vs. them. It's about you and me, and all of us together, because we're fundamentally the same, and everyone and everything affects everyone else and everything else."
Books alone cannot do the work of raising empathic children. The conversations parents and educators have about diversity as well as the actions they take toward others are just as important. But books are a great tool to have in your back pocket.
To help you diversify your library, we chatted with Wang and Văn, along with authors Hope Lim and Joanna Ho to create this collection of kid's books that depict Asian children coming to America. Within these picture books and middle grade stories, characters learn to make delicious foods from their heritage, embrace their bodies, and more, making them an amazing place to start when it comes to learning about the Asian American culture.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
By Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho
Author and educator Joanna Ho is the daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants. In her debut picture book Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, she gives a gorgeous and lyrical statement of self-love that celebrates Asian-shaped eyes and family heritage. "I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea," the child narrator proclaims, just like her mama, her amah (grandmother), and her little sister Mei-Mei.
By Andrea Wang, Illustrated by Jason Chin
Inspired by her childhood, in Watercress, author Andrea Wang tells the story of a daughter of Chinese immigrants moving to a small Ohio town. The story's narrator is painfully aware of the differences between her and her primarily white classmates. Her complicated feelings about her heritage come to a head when her parents stop by the road to dig for watercress, which they eat for dinner that night. At first embarrassed, as the protagonist learns more about her family's history, she comes to a different understanding of both the meal of watercress she shares with her family and her Chinese heritage.
By Mượn Thị Văn, Illustrated by Victo Ngai
With Wishes, Vietnamese American author Mượn Thị Văn writes a poignant, poetic ode based on actual events in her childhood. In this hopeful and moving picture book, a little girl tells the story of a Vietnamese family journeying by boat to a new country and all the unspoken wishes that accompany such a harrowing and life-altering journey. Văn's simple and lyrical prose is paired with award-winning artist Victo Ngai's stunning and intricate illustrations.
By Hope Lim, Illustrated by Il Sung Na
Korean American author Hope Lim was also inspired by her childhood in the vibrant and joyful picture book My Tree. When a little boy moves to the U.S. from Korea, he finds solace in the plum tree that grows in his backyard that reminds him of home. He names the tree Plumee and spends many days pretend playing and dreaming beneath it. When a storm knocks it down, he continues to play and find joy in the tree, as do the neighborhood children who join with him in the fun. Eventually, the tree must go, but a new plum tree is planted in its place, mirroring the new friendships the child has forged in his new home.
By Shelly Anand, Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Laxmi's Mooch by Shelly Anand is the joyful, body-positive picture book about a young Indian American girl's journey of accepting her body hair after she is teased about her mustache. With the help of her parents, young Laxmi learns to love not just the hair that grows on her head but the hair that grows everywhere. I love that she's not only able to embrace herself, she also shares this love with her friends at school. —Recommended by Joanna Ho
I Dream of Popo
By Livia Blackburne, Illustrated by Julia Kuo
A new picture book I highly recommend is I Dream of Popo, written by Livia Blackburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo. This is a moving story of a young girl who emigrates from Taiwan to the U.S., leaving her beloved grandmother, Popo, behind. Rich with emotions, cultural traditions, and enchanting illustrations, this book celebrates the love between a child and grandparent. —Recommended by Andrea Wang
No Kimchi for Me!
By Aram Kim
Aram Kim has featured Korean culture in her creative works, and I love all of her books. One of them, No Kimchi for Me!, is a child-friendly take on the picky eater using a uniquely Korean food, kimchi. This story sweetly opens up a conversation about trying new foods while introducing readers to kimchi. —Recommended by Hope Lim
Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!
By Hyewon Yum
Hyewon Yum is the thoughtful creator of many books for children. In Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!, she brings a different perspective to first day of school jitters. I recognize myself as the mother who worries about her child when he is off to school for the first time. Seeing Korean characters in bright colors in this heartfelt story is such a treat. —Recommended by Hope Lim
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
By Kat Zhang, Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Amy Wu wants to make the perfect Bao, but no matter how many times she tries, her bao comes out looking all wrong! With the help of her mother, father, and grandmother, Amy Wu practices and practices until she can finely make the perfect bao. This engaging and charming picture book is a blast to read to children. Make sure to also read Zhang's follow-up Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon, about how a class project about dragons helps Amy embrace her Chinese heritage as she adds a bit of her unique self to a craft she shares with the class.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
By Jessica Kim
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim is the story of Yumi (Yu-MEAT to kids at school because they say she smells like her family's BBQ restaurant), who is shy on the outside but dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. This book is the perfect combination of heart and hilarity. It has smart comedy bits, puns, and charming, gutsy characters. What I especially love about this story is the way the parents and their relationships with Yumi are portrayed. It feels so spot on to the complicated, challenging, yet loving relationship between Asian immigrant parents and American-born children. —Recommended by Joanna Ho
By Christina Soontornvat
All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat received multiple awards, including a Newbery Honor and a Sibert Honor, for good reason. It is the gripping story of the Thai cave rescue of 12 young boys and their coach. Meticulously researched and told with detail and nuanced understanding of the region's culture and religion, this gripping and inspiring story centers the Thai communities—and the boys themselves—that worked tirelessly against impossible odds to achieve miraculous results. This brilliant book is also an example of perspectives, nuances, and stories that are highlighted when Asian people tell our own stories instead of having them told by others. —Recommended by Joanna Ho
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
By Debbi Michiko Florence
For middle grade readers, I love Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence. This contemporary coming-of-age story features Keiko, a 12-year-old biracial Japanese American girl who just wants everyone to get along. She's caught in the middle of toxic friendships, forbidden crushes, and family drama. This is an engaging, heartwarming, and fun book that normalizes the Asian American experience. —Recommended by Andrea Wang
By Kelly Yang
This novel is bold, funny, and more relevant than ever. It broaches a number of complex subjects, including racism, classism, immigration, and exploitation, in an accessible but honest way. The story also demonstrates the power of the pen and may inspire more than a few readers to look at writing in a new way. —Recommended by Mượn Thị Văn
The Magic Fish
By Trung Le Nguyen
My 9-year-old devoured this graphic novel, and then they read it again, and then again. They loved the fairy tales and the gorgeous art. The novel also resonated with me, but for slightly different reasons. I identified with the struggle to communicate with a beloved family member (also my parents in my case), and with the need to get another to truly know and understand who one is. This book is a great conversation starter, whatever the conversation may be. —Recommended by Mượn Thị Văn
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
By Grace Lin
Tawainese American author and illustrator Grace Lin has written numerous stories for all ages. This imaginative and sweet middle grade novel begins an award-winning fantasy series inspired by Chinese folklore. In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Minli, who lives in a village beside the Fruitless Mountain, decides to find fortune for her family, as her Ma often complains about how poor they are. To discover that fortune, a goldfish tells Minli to ask the Old Man of the Moon. So Minli sneaks away, and in her adventures, frees a goldfish, rescues a dragon, meets a king, and meets two lucky twins. On each adventure, she's told new folktales, as slowly her own journey becomes one. All three books in the series are complete.