AAPI Heritage Month: Massive Booklist
Happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month! To celebrate, I’ve put together a MASSIVE list of children’s books for AAPI Heritage Month. The booklist below showcases the diversity of the AAPI community of writers and illustrators, both culturally and thematically. Culturally, the books below represent East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands, as well as their representations in the diaspora. Thematically, some books focus on family relationships, others on cultural traditions, and others on imaginative play and everyday life. One doesn’t even focus on people at all, but on mice!
Enjoy this diverse collection, and know that if you don’t see one of your favorites included here, chances are that it is included in one of my other booklists, because all booklists should contain diverse books, not just those done for heritage months!
AAPI Heritage Month: Massive Booklist
Enjoy the AAPI Heritage Month picture books and chapters books below!
A Garden in My Hands is a gorgeous new picture book from my friend Meera Sriram. (See my review of some of her other recent books). It celebrates family and traditions, as a young girl has her hands decorated with henna by her mother. It is a joyous book about this loving act and the storytelling that often accompanies it. Based on the author’s own childhood memories, the book shows how such traditions connect us to our to our families and help children take pride in their heritage. Don’t miss my interview with the author on Read Your World!
Sari-Sari Summers is a lovely story about the relationship between a young girl and her lola (grandmother). When a heat wave threatens business at lola’s sari-sari store, Nora worries that her summer visit will be cut short. So she comes up with an idea to make cool treats to bring in customers. Thanks to their hard work, Nora and her lola save the day! A wonderful book to celebrate grandparents and the children that love them. It also showcases the beauty of city life in the Philippines. And don’t worry, there is a recipe for their treats included at the end of the book!
Little Bun: A Bilingual Storybook About Feelings helps young children identity their feelings and develop social-emotional skills. Written by my dear friend Amanda Hsiung-Blodgett (see my interview with her!) and her daughter, the text is entirely in English and Chinese. It even comes with online audio for those learning Mandarin! The book is a celebration of the mother-daughter duo’s bilingual journey and of their Taiwanese and Chinese heritage. I love the gentle feel of the book, which enhanced by its adorable illustrations. A wonderful book for Mandarin learners and anyone wanting to encourage their child’s social-emotional development. See also Books About Big Feelings
Night Market Rescue celebrates the famous night markets of Taipei, as seen through the eyes of a stray dog. As he wanders through the stalls, he spots a girl who is also alone. Lured by the promise of friendship, he ventures towards her – and towards the possibility of something more: a home. Children will adore this sweet story, and readers’ mouths will water at the sight of all the wonderful foods in the market! Be sure to watch my interviews with the author on Read Your World and Make a Way Media.
Sora’s Seashells tackles difficult topics that many children have to deal with: microagressions (particularly around their names) and loss of a loved one. Sora is tired of being teased by her classmates about her “weird” Korean name, and her anger boils over when she also must face the death of her beloved halmoni, or grandmother. As Sora discovers the real meaning of her name and its connection to her grandmother, she finds the courage and pride needed to confront her bullies and teach all of her classmates about just how special her name is. A beautiful book about coming to terms with grief. It also shows how a strong sense of self-worth, particularly in the context of loving family relationships, can help children confront bullying.
Our Favorite Day also celebrates a child’s relationship with their grandparent (definitely a recurring theme in this booklist!) Papa has a fairly predictable routine most days of the week, but Thursdays are special. Thursdays are his favorite days, because it is when he spends the day with his beloved grandchild, eating favorite foods and doing crafts together. With simple text and beautiful cut paper illustrations, this is a wonderful book about a cherished relationship.
The Star Festival takes place during Tanabata Matsuri, which celebrates a Japanese folktale about the time once a year when two lovers separated by the Emperor of the Heavens are able to reunite. Keiko can’t wait to take in all the sights and sounds of the festival with her mother and obasaan (grandmother) and to make their special tanzaku wishes. But when Obasaan gets separated from them in the crowd, Keiko and her mother must find a way to reunite with her, just like the heroes of the folktale. A gorgeous book that weaves the legendary past with the present to make a compelling tale about learning what is most important: the people we love.
I Am a Bird is a relatable story about overcoming suspicion of those that seem different from us – and discovering how much we really have in common with them. A little girl loves to make bird sounds as she rides through town on the back of her dad’s bike. But her joyous ride is ruined when she sees a strange woman who refuses to smile back at her. The tension continues day after day, until one morning she sees the woman on the beach – speaking to the birds! Now she knows she has found a kindred spirit, someone who is, at heart, a bird, just like her.
Twig is nearly one, and her big sister Hazel can hardly wait for the party! Of course she is excited about the food and getting to wear the special hanbok outfit. But mostly she is excited to see which special object, or doljabi, Twig choses, for, according to Korean tradition, this will predict Twig’s future. Hazel hopes she will pick yarn like Hazel did, so they can live long lives together. But when the time comes, Twig makes an unexpected choice that is simply perfect for her. A sweet book about supporting loved ones as they choose their own paths.
Being friends with a dinosaur sounds amazing, but what happens if he’s also invisible, and you’ve just given him a bath? Without mud (or rain or snow) to make his shape more obvious, the girl despairs of ever finding the missing dinosaur again. An adorable story about friendship and one girl’s incredible imagination.
Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar is about a girl’s trip to a busy bazaar in Tehran with her grandmother. The girl worries about getting lost in the crowd, persistently asking to hide under Mama Shamsi’s long black chador, or veil. Patiently and with gentle humor, Mama Shamsi refuses (again and again). After all, if the girl is hiding behind her, Mama Shamsi will look like a donkey. If she is hiding on her back, Mama Shamsi will look like a turtle! Gently, the grandmother helps the little girl see that she does not need to hide but simply to hold hands with Mama Shamsi in order to be safe. A wonderful story that goes a long way towards combating the negative image many people have about Iran and particularly about the veil, which the author remembers as a safe space where she used to hide when she was a child.
Another book that helps combat negative images of the veil is Hana’s Hundreds of Hijabs. Bright and colorful, this picture book is a celebration of creativity and how it can be harnessed to help others. Hana loves to decorate hijabs, but what should she do when she discovers she has too many? Her solution is just as creative as the hijabs she styles! A wildly colorful celebration of children’s imagination and creativity. I love how supportive the adults in Hana’s life are, and how they allow her to come up with a solution on her own. It’s also a great way to normalize the hijab for young readers. (There is additional material at the back of the book about the hijab). Be sure to watch my interview with the author!
My Paati’s Saris are an ode to the safety and comfort that family can provide to children, allowing them to be their true selves. A young boy enjoys the gentle rhythms of life with his paati, or grandmother, including the vibrant colors and scents of market and household. But what he most loves are his paati’s saris. When he wraps himself in them, he feels safe but most of all, he feels like himself. A beautiful tribute to families that allow children the freedom to explore and simply be without judgment. It is also so refreshing to see a book about India with dark-skinned characters, a type of diversity that is often missed.
Aloha Everything is a new book that teaches about Hawaii’s land and people in a breathtaking combination of adventure and art. This Kickstarter project has raised more than five times their original financial goal. The story centers on a young girl learning about the islands through the hula dance, a form of storytelling that passes on traditional knowledge and folklore. The stunning hand-painted illustrations captivate children’s imaginations and add to the epic feel of the book. It is wonderful to see such empowering representation of Pacific Islanders in children’s books. This gorgeous book is sure to become a family treasure.
Support Aloha Everything on Kickstarter.
My daughter loves the Geraldine Pu early reader books, including Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too!, graphic novels especially designed for younger readers. Geraldine Pu loves lunchtime at school and even has a special name for her lunchbox (Biandang). And she loves the delicious food her grandmother packs for her. But one day another kid makes fun of her lunch, and Geraldine starts to dread lunchtime. When the same kid makes fun of another child at lunch, Geraldine finds her courage and stands up to the bully. I love that story gives kids a concrete strategy of what to do if they or a friend are being bullied and helps them see how words can affect others. And who wouldn’t want to read a story with a talking lunch box??
Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party is from one of my favorite authors, Saadia Faruqi. (Be sure to watch my interview with her!) It is the first in a series of chapter books about spunky young girl whose big ideas often get her in hot water, despite her best intentions. Marya is annoyed at her rich classmate, who always has the best parties. Overcome by jealousy, Marya brags that her own birthday party will be a totally epic henna party – except now she has to convince her family to make it happen! While on the surface this is just a fun adventure story with a series of crazy mishaps, at its heart it is the emotional journey of young girl who realizes that things are not always what they seem, especially when we are blinded by jealousy. In the end, Marya comes to appreciate what she has, creating space to feel compassion for the lonely classmate who seems to “have it all.”
Sona Sharma: Very Best Big Sister? is also part of a chapter book series. (Don’t miss my interview with the author!) In addition to the many folktales retold by the author, she is also very intentional about sharing contemporary stories of India, as in her Sona Sharma series. Sona is part of a large, loving family, but she isn’t so sure about having a new baby in the house. The idea of sharing with a younger sibling doesn’t sound appealing, but in the end, she decides that she will be the best big sister ever and find the perfect name for the baby. I love how the emotions of the story are so universal, yet told with specific cultural details that bring the contemporary setting to life.
Brandon Goes… is a wonderful chapter book series about a young boy’s travels to visit family in Asia. (don’t miss my interview with the author!) It was created by the author as a fun way to introduce children to the diverse cultures of Asia as well as to some of the language. I also love the imaginative element that the author introduces into each story, as there is always a bit of mystery woven into Brandon’s adventures. A fun adventure book series that helps children explore new cultures and normalizes the international family connections that so many children have.
Amazing is a wonderful picture book collection of 36 short biographies of inspiring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It includes biographies of people from all walks of life, including astronauts, entertainers, and athletes. They come from different times in history and represent cultures through Asia and the Pacific. I love that it showcases such a diversity of people, showcasing the many talents and stories to be found in the diaspora.