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Must-Read Books for Celebrating AAPI Characters and Stories

These top picks from DonorsChoose teachers will add some AAPI representation to your shelves!


“Whether reading about Hawaiian traditions in Ohana Means Family or about the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother in Grandmother’s Visit, my students will not only be exposed to cultures they may not be familiar with, but also discover that there are many things we all have in common.” – Mrs. Lew, Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month With Diverse Books!

When students read books featuring characters who look like them that are written by authors who share their experiences, they don’t just step into the story; they find their own place within it! These recommendations featuring AAPI characters and stories, will make the perfect addition to your students’ reading lists.

Elementary Books

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi

The first day at a new school is always hard, but Unhei has also just moved from Korea, and nobody can pronounce her name. Will she ever find friends? Will she ever fit in? This representative children’s book opens up a conversation with young readers about feeling different and how to help other kids feel like they belong.

Key themes: Cultural differences, identity, fitting in

Under My Hijab, by Hena Khan

Grandma, Auntie, Jenna, and Iman all have their own unique ways of expressing themselves while wearing hijab, and this young girl can’t wait to join them! Under My Hijab effortlessly answers questions that non-Muslim readers might have about wearing hijab, while giving young Muslim girls a positive message about their decision to wear hijab when they grow up. 

Key themes: Self-expression, intergenerational relationships, breaking down stereotypes

Eyes That Kiss In The Corners, by Joanna Ho

Her classmates may have big, round eyes with “lashes like lace trim on ball gowns,” but the narrator of Eyes That Kiss In The Corners knows that her own eyes “kiss in the corners,” just like her mother’s and grandmother’s, and that makes them beautiful. This tender ode to Asian beauty shows young readers that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

Key themes: Self-love, confidence, family, tradition

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, by Eva Chen

Juno is late for school, but she can’t leave without her favorite running-hopping-skipping-muddy-puddle-jumping shoes! When she was writing Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, Eva Chen was very aware of the power of representation in children’s books: “I think representation and diversity begins at a very young age. You might not be conscious of it completely until you see more people that look like you. Juno is meant to be mixed race so it was definitely inspired by my daughter all around.”

Key themes: Self-esteem, girl power, female role models

Bilal Cooks Daal, by Aisha Saeed

Six-year-old Bilal is so excited to introduce his friends to his favorite recipe of all time: daal! This South Asian slow-cooked dish takes a lot of patience – and help from his dad – but at the end of the day, Bilal gets to share a piece of who he is with the people who love him most. This 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature winner shows young readers the power of coming together over shared meals and shared culture.

Key themes: Food, heritage, community, identity   

Middle School Books

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhhà Lai

Based on the author’s own experiences, this free verse novel tells the story of 10-year-old Hà as she and her family flee South Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Speaking no English, Hà and her family leave their missing father and arrive in Alabama… only to encounter the realities of racism in the South. A lyrical story of love, compassion, and determination, Inside Out and Back Again is a beautiful depiction of one family’s journey to making a new home. 

Key themes: Hope, determination, compassion, immigrant identity

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

In this New York Times-bestselling graphic novel, Gene Luen Yang weaves the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, known as Sun Wukong, into the stories of three boys growing up Chinese in America. Though the lives of Jin Wang, Danny, and Chin-Kee are seemingly unrelated to one another, each of them deals with stereotypes, feelings of isolation, and straddling two cultures at once. Their stories ultimately twine together in an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. 

Key themes: Racism, identity, pride, heritage

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

10-year-old Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Loosely based on Kelly Yang’s life, this book showcases the family, friendships, and perseverance that help immigrant families face the struggles and hardships that often come their way. A winner of the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, this novel follows the ups and downs of life as an immigrant kid in America.

Key themes: Perseverance, racism, social justice, immigrant identity

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

This sweeping epic follows one Korean family’s journey across the world and through generations, beginning with Sunja, a teen girl who falls for a wealthy stranger and travels to Japan to create a new life for herself. With the Japanese occupation of Korea and World War II as its backdrop, Pachinko intertwines themes of class, cultural displacement, and endurance to make a very human story about what it takes to survive. 

Key themes: Love, sacrifice, ambition, loyalty, immigrant identity

You Are Here: Connecting Flights, edited by Ellen Oh

When an incident at a TSA checkpoint in a crowded Chicago airport goes awry, 12 young Asian Americans are suddenly brought together as they discover the challenges of friendship, the power of courage, and the importance of saying the right thing at the right time. A unique novel told in 12 voices by 12 powerhouse Asian American authors, this book is engaging, moving, inspiring, and accessible for readers at all levels. 

Written by Linda Sue Park, Erin Entrada Kelly, Grace Lin, Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Minh Lê, Ellen Oh, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, and Susan Tan, and edited by Ellen Oh.

Key themes: Discrimination, courage, friendship

High School Books

The Sympathizer: A Novel, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This Pulitzer-Prize winning novel tells the story of an American educated Franco-Vietnamese communist spy caught up in the throes of the Vietnam War. Our team member who recommended this book said, “This was the first book that made me feel like the narrator understands how Americans in the USA view the Asian diaspora.” The Sympathizer is a riveting, sometimes-funny, and compassionate novel that fearlessly examines the public and private legacies of the Vietnam War.

Key themes: Love, loyalty, friendship, immigrant identity

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

This DonorsChoose staff favorite follows four Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters who connect and navigate their complex relationships through a club known as the Joy Luck Club, playing the Chinese game of mahjong and sharing extravagant feasts. Written in 1989, this engaging novel is just as relevant today as it was then. 

Key themes: Friendship among women, mother-daughter relationships, immigrant identity

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will connect this short story collection that centers Indian immigrants and their quest for love beyond geography and generation. A 2000 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award-winner and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book was one of our DonorsChoose staff members’ favorites during high school. 

Key themes: Migration, belonging, family, identity

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner – also known by her internationally famous indie rock moniker, Japanese Breakfast – brings us a poignant memoir about moving through the grief of losing her mother by learning to cook her mother’s recipes. Crying in H Mart pulls back the curtain on Michelle’s life to reveal the intimacies of what it was like growing up Korean-American in Eugene, Oregon, and struggling to remain herself as she entered the spotlight. Funny, heartwarming, and tender, this book is perfect for any teenager grappling with the tension between honoring family and tradition, and pursuing their dreams.

Key themes: Food, mother-daughter relationships, coming-of-age, parent death, heritage

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