Kids will love these picture books by Asian and Asian American authors. The books on this list convey a wealth of experience from the ordinary and every day, to learning about one’s family and heritage, to immersing one’s self in the natural world, to discovering the fascinating lives of historical figures. Whether you want books specifically by Asian-American authors to ensure your bookshelves are diverse, or you just want to read a really good book to your kids, you’ve come to the right place!
Before we get to the list… This list is primarily East Asian authors and does not include books with a South Asian focus. You can find South Asian books here: South Asian and Indian Characters in Children’s Books. For books with Asian and Asian-American protagonists for older readers see our list of Asian American History Month books for middle grade readers.
This list features three categories:
- Biography and historical fiction
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Fiction Picture Books
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua
This darling story about a girl hoping to figure out how to make the perfect bao is a testament to creative problem solving! Amy’s parents and grandma all seem to be adept at making the delicious treats but Amy struggles and is determined not to give up. I love that Zhang included Amy’s dad as part of the bao-making, intergenerational kitchen brigade. So often “cooking with family” books only include the women. Ages 4 and up.
A Map Into the World
by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim
This lovely, tender story about a Hmong-American girl is a delight. Paj Ntaub moves into a new house, hangs a traditional Hmong story cloth with her grandparent, meets the neighbors and watches the seasons change. Along the way, twin brothers are born, and one of her elderly neighbors passes away. Paj, using her thoughtful observation skills, creates a “map into the world” to comfort him. Ages 5 and up.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Doug Ho
It would be enough to pick up this title just for Doug Ho’s splendid illustrations, but pair them with Joanna Ho’s heartwarming story about a girl recognizing the beauty of her eyes and their connection to her heritage and you have a real winner of a book. A young girl beautifully describes her eyes, those of her mother and grandmother, and relates how they convey emotions and thoughts. Ho’s illustrations connect the present with Chinese culture. A rich and splendid book. Ages 4 and up.
by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin
Watercress is a must read! When a Chinese-American family pulls over to the side of the road to gather watercress, a young girl is embarrassed and wishes her family could be more “normal!” However, as the family gathers the watercress and sits down to dinner the stories come out, the girl learns of the connection with memory, her Chinese heritage and her family’s experience with famine. There is a lovely weight to Wang’s prose (or free verse) that captures the deep emotional resonance of the experiences. One of my favorite lines is “My mom’s eyes are as sharp as a dragon’s claw.” An author’s end note explains the autobiographical nature of the story. Ages 5 and up.
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Genevieve Simms
Mayumi learns how to care for and appreciate a garden from her grandfather. Mayumi’s grandfather lives in Japan and his garden is not filled with flowers, but with stones. When grandfather becomes too elderly to continue to live alone he must leave his house and garden and Mayumi channels her sadness over the loss by creating a small, mobile stone garden that her grandfather can always have with him. After reading this book, why not encourage your kids to create their own mini zen garden. Fill a shallow tray with sand, add in a few lovely stones and a tiny rake and let the calming begin! Ages 5 and up.
by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata
A fun, positive story about a boy who must learn how to balance his love of sumo wrestling with being a good big brother. I love how Japanese terms are seamlessly woven into the story. A great way to introduce kids to the sport, but still a lovely story about a sibling relationship.
The Red Tree
by Shaun Tan
Find it: Amazon
Tan’s spare text and highly imaginative paintings address the darker side of loneliness. A lonely girl wakes up, feeling the sometimes surreal sensation of being alone, waiting for something to happen, wandering in a confusing and vast world. When she returns to her room, she finds a red leaf springing up from the middle of the floor and turning into a tall red tree, it lifts the girl’s spirits. Sure to spark some interesting conversations! Ages 5 and up.
The Name Jar
by Yangsook Choi
Unhei has just moved to America from Korea. She loves her name but when the other kids can’t pronounce it, she worries about fitting in. She decides she should choose a new American name. Her classmates fill up a jar with potential new names but with the support of others, Unhei decides she wants to keep her Korean name. This anti-bias book is so important, especially in classrooms in which children may have names that are difficult for native-English speakers to say. Names are a big part of a person’s identity and we serve children well by valuing them. Ages 4 and up.
A Morning with Grandpa
by Sylvia Liu, illustrated by Christina Forshay
Mindfulness doesn’t have to take place in solitude! I adore this book about how a girl connects with her grandfather over the practice of Tai Chi. Mei Mei joins her grandpa in the morning for his daily ritual but while he is smooth and graceful, Mei Mei puts her own spin on things, reminding us that mindfulness need not always be practiced in the stillness. A wonderful story. Ages 4 and up.
by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
This is an absolutely gorgeous book with a lovely intergenerational message. A boy and his grandfather are visiting each other, but they have trouble communicating as there is a language barrier. The key, however, is art. By drawing together, they learn to understand each other. Ages 4 and up.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Even though she is just a beginner, Hana signs up to play the violin in her school talent show, but her brothers tell her she isn’t good enough. Hana won’t let that discourage her, and inspired by her grandfather, she sets out to practice, practice, practice. As with most things in life, it is not all smooth sailing when she begins to doubt herself, but that’s where the growth mindset comes in. Hana does not give up and her performance surprises even her! Ages 4 and up.
Hush! A Thai Lullaby
by Minfong Ho
I love this book and have recommended it so many times over the years. After a mom puts her baby to sleep in a hammock she has to hush the sounds around her. Author Minfong Ho writes each animal’s onomatopoetic sound and I like that they are unusual to English speakers. For example, the lizard says “tuk-ghaa”, the pig says, “uut-uut.” The gentle, rhythmic text creates such a lovely lullaby. All ages.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ
by Uk-Bae Lee
This gorgeously illustrated picture book introduces readers to a unique landscape with which most western children are not familiar. Uk-Bae Lee takes readers on a journey through the seasons in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, describing the abundance of flora and fauna that inhabit the landscape. Each season a grandfather climbs to a lookout point to observe the natural phenomena. At the end of the book the final pages show a gate and the pages fold out to display a wonderful landscape waiting to be explored. At several points in the story, the author reminds us that the DMZ is also a place where soldiers train and takes note of the barbed wire surrounding the area. A really wonderful book that will inspire a lot of conversations with your kids! Ages 4 and up.
The Green Frogs: A Korean Tale
by Yumi Heo
This is a Korean folk tale that explains why frogs croak loudly near water. Two young frogs never listen to their mother! They love to do exactly the opposite of what she says. When their mother dies, they bury her by the stream and croak loudly so she is not washed away. Ages 3 and up.
The Firekeeper’s Son
By Linda Sue Park, illustrated by
In 19th century Korea, Sang-hee, is the son of the village firekeeper. The firekeeper is an important position because if the fire goes out, the king will assume there is trouble. One night Sang-hee’s father falls ill and the task falls to him; he struggles with his desire to see the soldiers and the responsibility of making sure the signal fire is lit. Ages 5 and up.
Sam and the Lucky Money
by Karen Chinn, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Find it: Amazon | Bookshop
Sam is excited to be able to spend his lucky New Year money. He has four dollars and his mom has told him he can buy anything he wants. On their trip through the neighborhood Sam notices a homeless man with bare feet. As he contemplates how to spend his money he gets frustrated that the four dollars is never enough to buy what he wants. His mother reminds him to appreciate what he has. During a second encounter with the homeless man, Sam understands how he can best spend his money. Ages 4 and up.
by Jason Chin
All of Chin’s books are spectacular and this book which investigates the geology of the Grand Canyon is no exception. The story follows a child and an adult on a walk through the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, detailing how the layers were formed, the plants and wildlife that live in the basin. There is so much information here that you and your children will want to read it over and over and then will immediately start planning your next vacation! Be sure to look for Jason Chin’s other books on the nonfiction shelf! Ages 3 and up.
Biographies & Historical Fiction
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story
by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang
Anna May Wong grew up helping her parents in their laundry business but dreamed of becoming a film actress. When she started getting film work she was frustrated that the only roles she could get were Chinese stereotypes, so she moved to Europe. Upon her return to the States, nothing had changed and she set to work to combat those stereotypes in film. What a fascinating and important story. Ages 6 and up.
Baseball Saved Us
by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
During World War II, the United States government imprisoned people of Japanese descent in internment camps. Shorty and his father build a baseball diamond in the dusty field of the camp. Shorty uses the game to build his self-confidence and channel his anger at the guards. Be sure to discuss this book critically with kids: Did baseball actually save the boys? Was using their anger a productive way to approach their situation? Should assimilation actually be the real goal? Ages 6 and up.
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story
by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
This is an amazing, true story. The narrator is a boy whose father is the Japanese ambassador in Lithuania during World War II. One day, hundreds of Jewish refugees start showing up at the embassy asking for visas to Japan so they can escape the Nazis. They hope to get to Japan so they could move on to another country safely. Three times, the boy’s father asks permission from Japan to issue the visas, and 3 times the answer is, “No.” However, the father decides to do the right thing. I particularly like how the boy’s father includes him in the events, at one point saying, “My father always took the time to explain everything to me.” The afterward by the author, describing what happened in later years, is just as fascinating as the story. Ages 7 and up.
Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom
by Dia Cha, illustrated by Nhia Thao Cha
A traditional Hmong story cloth tells the author’s story of how her family got through war in Laos in the mid 20th century. Her father was killed in the war and she and her mother travelled to a refugee camp in Thailand, where they lived for four years before emigrating to the United States. The quilt depicted in the book is gorgeous and parents and educators can connect it to the tradition of telling family history through quilting in America. Ages 8 and up.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist
by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
The moving and fascinating story of Wong Geng Yeo, later known as Tyrus Wong (a name given to him by his school teachers), who grew up to be an animator on Disney’s Bambi. Leung begins the story with Wong’s immigration and his interrogation by officials at Angel Island. Leung and Sasaki paint a loving portrait of a son, boy and man who learns positive values from his father and works hard while practicing his art. A wonderful biography of a man we should all know more about! Ages 6 and up.