Why do I pay attention to AAPI Heritage Month? As a school librarian, I spend a lot of time thinking about the diversity of my collection. I’m a white woman working in a school where white kids are a slight minority. I know that my ingrained racism keeps me from selecting books that are appropriate representative of the world unless I make a serious effort. One reliable way to naturally encourage diversity is to pay attention to heritage months. Of course, we need Black and Native American literature year round. We need to be centering gay and disabled authors from September to May, and in the summer, too. But these occasional focuses help me design displays and chose read alouds with intention.
Below, I’ve gathered some picture books that celebrate cultures from around Asia. All books are created by AAPI authors and illustrators, and feature characters interacting with their culture in some way. Whether you’re seeking a story about the act of grappling with your heritage or simply looking for a story where an AAPI culture is a complement, there is something to enjoy.
If you’re looking for more AAPI stories, especially ones for older readers, I’ve linked to some more recommendations below. Hopefully you’ll find a story to either make your readers feel seen or to help them understand how much there is to see in the world.
Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome by Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua
Amy Wu is one of my favorite characters. Her bright spirit and willingness to try take readers on so many adventures. In this story, Amy is excited to befriend a new student from China, but has a hard time connecting. When she sees him happily chatting with his family in Chinese, she realizes how she can truly make him feel welcome. This is sure to become a favorite in your home, classroom, or library.
Tofu Takes Time by Helen H. Wu and Julie Jarema
Patience, family time, and appreciating the bigger picture are all celebrated in this story about the process of making tofu. Lin struggles to understand why making tofu takes so long, but as her grandmother, NaiNai, walks her through the process, she sees why! As they go through the steps, recognizing how each simple ingredient went through many steps to arrive in their kitchen, Lin and NaiNai spend special time together, making their tofu taste twice as nice.
Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
In this companion to Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, Ho brings us a story from the male perspective. When our protagonist is hurt by a drawing made by his classmate, he turns to his father for comfort. Through conversations with people he loves, the boy is able to revel in the fact that his eyes are like his brother’s, his dad’s, and his agong’s. He is able to celebrate how powerful he is, and be excited for the way he will continue his family’s legacy in both looks and actions. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations emphasize this powerful message.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
Bao Phi is a poet, and the craft shines in this simple picture book about a boy and his father fishing in the predawn hours. Pursing fish for food rather than fun, the father shares stories about doing the same thing at a different pond in his native Vietnam. Thi Bui’s background in graphic novels brings this story to life with vivid, careful details and extremely fleshed out illustrations.
Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin
Watercress has won so many awards, and it’s easy to see why. Spare text and powerful illustrations tell a story of a young girl embarrassed by her immigrant parents and the way they forage for food and thrift for goods. Her parents are baffled that she doesn’t understand their good fortune to be able to get things they need. A story about miscommunication and perspective, there is so much to dive into beyond the loveliness of the book itself. This is sure to inspire multiple readings!
The Kindest Red: A Story of Hijab and Friendship by Ibtihaj Muhammad, S. K. Ali, and Hatem Aly
Returning characters from The Proudest Blue return in this story about school picture day. Faizah is so excited to wear the special red dress that both her mother and sister have worn before her. However, when it’s time for sibling pictures, she’s sad to realize that her and her sister, Asiya, don’t match like the other kids. Drawing on a conversation about kindness and creating the world you want to live in, Faizah’s friends help the sisters take the perfect picture!
Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat
This book is nearly wordless, but it matches the plot of the story so perfectly. A young boy is annoyed to be visiting his grandfather. They both speak different languages, and it seems to be useless to try and communicate. However, when a sketchbook and pencil emerge, they find that drawing together can connect them after all.
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh and Baljinder Kaur
An amazing true story of perseverance, record breaking, and lifelong commitment to trying new things! After growing up in India with a disability, Fauja Singh immigrated to America. After living a full life, he began running when he was in his 80s! And after 20 years of commitment to his sport, he became the first person over 100 to run a marathon. Inspiring and just plain awesome! Detailed illustrations ground this almost unbelievable story.
Looking for more amazing stories to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month? Check out 20 Children’s Books to Read by AAPI Authors and Illustrators or 12 Middle Grade Asian Historical Fiction Books by Authors of Color. Happy reading!