By Megan Ciskowski, Assistant Publicist
During this difficult time, it’s more important than ever to listen to and learn from diverse stories. Empathy, joy, and education are powerful forces we can use to stand up to hate. Celebrate stories of Asian and Asian American experiences with these picture books, young adult fiction, and graphic novels.
Read on to find titles that raise Asian and Asian American voices and support their work. Nonfiction titles about racial violence and inequality are also listed below to help begin crucial conversations.
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and illus. by Khoa Le
Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States. When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother—a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth—who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most. Stunning illustrations from Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le bring this intergenerational tale to life.
Visit Kao Kalia Yang’s website!
Visit Khoa Le’s website!
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang and illus. by Seo Kim
Kao Kalia Yang’s award-winning picture book features a young Hmong American girl who constantly seeks out beauty in the world around her. In the course of the story, her family moves into a new house and her mother gives birth to twin boys. As a result, much of the beauty the girl finds goes unnoticed by others. In the end, she finds a way to share all that she’s seen with an elderly neighbor who is grieving the loss of his wife, and these two neighbors, one young and one old, find a true connection.
Visit Seo Kim’s website!
The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley and illus. by Kim Lien and Nguyen Quang
After watching the World Cup on television, a group of Thai boys is inspired to form their own team. But on the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. The boys can play only twice a month on a sandbar when the tide is low enough. Everything changes when the teens join together to build their very own floating soccer field.
This inspiring true story by debut author Scott Riley is gorgeously illustrated by Vietnamese illustrators Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien. Perfect for fans of stories about sports, beating seemingly impossible odds, and places and cultures not often shown in picture books.
For every book sold between March 1 and March 31, 2021, Scott Riley is donating $1 to COVID relief for Koh Panyee. Visit Scott Riley at his website here!
Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and illus. by Jérémy Pailler
It is the eve of Chinese New Year. Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. From the moment Shen Long opens his great amber eyes and unfurls his silver-blue tail, Yao will be propelled on a magical journey to battle the bad luck of the previous year and usher in the good. Will he succeed? Will his grandfather watch over him and protect him from harm?
A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere.
Like Spilled Water by Jennie Liu
Nineteen-year-old Na has always lived in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. Years ago, Na’s parents left her in the countryside and went to work in the city, bringing Bao-bao along and committing everything to his education.
But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. Did he really kill himself because of a low score on China’s all-important college entrance exam? Na learns that Bao-bao had many secrets and that his death may not be what it seems. Na’s parents expect her to quit her vocational school and go to work, forcing Na to confront traditional expectations for and pressures on young women.
The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito by Shing Yin Khor
As a child growing up in Malaysia, Shing Yin Khor had two very different ideas of what “America” meant. The first looked a lot like Hollywood, full of beautiful people, sunlight, and freeways. The second looked more like The Grapes of Wrath—a nightmare landscape filled with impoverished people, broken-down cars, barren landscapes, and broken dreams. This book chronicles Shing’s solo journey (small adventure-dog included) along the iconic Route 66, beginning in Santa Monica and ending up Chicago. What begins as a road trip ends up as something more like a pilgrimage in search of an American landscape that seems forever shifting and forever out of place.
Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Andrés Vera Martínez and Na Liu, illus. by Andrés Vera Martínez
The world is changing for two girls in China in the 1970s. Da Qin—Big Piano—and her younger sister, Xiao Qin—Little Piano—live in the city of Wuhan with their parents. For decades, China’s government had kept the country separated from the rest of the world. When their country’s leader, Chairman Mao, dies, new opportunities begin to emerge. Da Qin and Xiao Qin soon learn that their childhood will be much different than the upbringing their parents experienced.
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun
Yu’er and her grandpa live in a small neighborhood in Beijing—and it’s full of big personalities. There’s a story around every corner, and each day has a hint of magic.
In one tale, Yu’er wants to swim in the Special Olympics, a sports competition for people with disabilities. But she and her grandpa don’t have a pool! Their trick to help Yu’er practice wows the whole neighborhood. In another story, a friend takes Yu’er to a wild place full of musical insects. Later, Yu’er hears a special story about her grandparents. And in the final story, Yu’er and her grandpa show a cranky painter the sweet side of life.
See more about the creation of My Beijing here!
Nonfiction Titles to Discuss Inequality, Racial Violence, and Allyship
Celebrating diverse voices is incredibly important, but so is taking the time to educate ourselves about racism and inequality. Here are a few titles that can help begin those conversations with young readers.
Exposing Hate: Prejudice, Hatred, and Violence in Action by Michael Miller
According to the Stop AAPI Hate center, there have been 3,795 incidents of reported aggression or crimes against Asian Americans between March 2020 and February 2021. Disrupting this pattern begins by recognizing these incidents as acts of prejudice.
Experts have documented an explosive rise in the number of hate groups since the turn of the century, driven by anger over immigration and demographic projections showing that whites will no longer hold majority status in the United States by 2040. The rise accelerated with the elections of presidents Obama and Trump. Extremists are increasingly diffuse, moving to the web and away from organized, on-the-ground activities. In Exposing Hate, readers investigate salient issues such as: what is a hate group and how does it operate? How do we legally define hate speech and hate crimes? What is the history of organizing around hate and how do we recognize and confront it?
Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke
In the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions—such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools—routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense.
The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, this insightful title explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.
Racism: Deal with it before it gets under your skin by Anne Marie Aikins and illus. by Steven Murray
Few people would identify themselves as racist and yet we all hold attitudes and beliefs about cultures that are different from our own which affect the way we behave towards others.
Using realistic examples and sensitive language, Racism: Deal with it before it gets under your skin examines the sources of racial and cultural conflicts and the many forms—both obvious and subtle—that prejudice can take.
Whether they have experienced racial conflict as a member of a dominant or a minority group, this important book will help young people recognize and overcome barriers to peace, understanding, and acceptance.
Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illus. by Mehrdokht Amini
How can we make the world a better place? This inspiring resource for middle-grade readers is organized as a dictionary; each entry presents a word related to creating a better world, such as ally, empathy, or respect. For each word, there is a poem, a quote from an inspiring person, a personal anecdote from the authors, and a “try it” prompt for an activity.
This second poetic collaboration from Irene Latham and Charles Waters builds upon themes of diversity and inclusiveness from their previous book Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Illustrations from Iranian-British artist Mehrdokht Amini offer readers a rich visual experience.
Check out more kid lit and online resources with this article from the Teen Librarian Toolbox.
Click here to find more Booklists on the Lerner Blog.