If you are looking to add middle grade and chapter books by Asian and Asian-American authors to your diverse bookshelf, you’ve come to the right place. May is Asian-Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, and while of course you should be reading these books all year long, it can be nice to have a dedicated time to remind ourselves to explore a unique heritage. These books feature Asian-Americans living in the West, but also characters who live in countries on the Asian continent. The books on this list are all #OwnVoices selections, which means they are written by authors of Asian descent.
I’ve separated the books into three categories:
- historical fiction
- contemporary realistic fiction
- fantasy and science fiction
- chapter books for 7-10 year olds
Note: this list includes East-Asian, South-Asian and Pacific-Islander books. However I have more selections on the following lists:
- Children’s books with South-Asian characters, #OwnVoices picture books, chapter books and middle grade selections
- Picture books with Asian and Asian-American characters, #OwnVoices selections.
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai is the story of Hà, a 9 year old girl living in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. Hà, her mother and three brothers escape the city on a ship as it falls to the communists. Rescued by the American navy, they eventually find their way to Alabama through the help of a sponsor. This story is suspenseful, touching and quite funny. Kids everywhere will relate to Hà’s description of learning English and it’s spelling and grammar rules! It is a story of fitting in, the importance of family, and hope even in sorrow. I loved it.
A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata. After World War II, thousands of Japanese-born American citizens were coerced into renouncing their citizenship and forced to emigrate to Japan. This is the story of one family’s experience told through the eyes of 12 year old Hanako. She and her brother, along with their parents move in with her grandparents, tenant farmers in a small Japanese village. Discuss with your children the right of citizenship, the struggle of immigrants, and the experiences of living in an unfamiliar country. You can also chat about the value of familial relationships between generations.
One day my son came home to tell me his 3rd grade teachers were reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord aloud to the class. I mentioned I had it at home and he got really excited! I love that he wanted to read the book himself, even though he was hearing it at school. I’ve noticed that exposure to particular books at school is a huge selling point with kids. This is a really wonderful story about a 10 year old who moves with her family from China to Brooklyn. In her attempt to understand American culture and be accepted, she focuses on baseball as an entry point, making new friends along the way.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park. Maggie is a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan (off to a good start!) thanks to her fireman friend, Jim, who teaches her all about keeping track of the scores. When Jim gets drafted and sent off to Korea, he and Maggie correspond until he suddenly stops writing back. When he returns from Korea, Maggie is determined to help him heal. I liked how Maggie was persistent in her desire to help her friend, and made such an effort to learn about Korea. Her maps and notes are included in the story, which takes place over several years. You may be put off with the idea of your kids reading a book that involves the Korean War, but please don’t be. This book is quite special.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. A stellar, thoughtful alternative to the Little House books, Prairie Lotus, is about Hanna, a 14 year old half-Chinese girl who dreams of being a dressmaker. She and her white father have moved to a new town in Dakota territory where her father is opening a dress goods store. Hanna is excited about going to school for the first time and graduating, as her mother dreamed for her. She faces the racism of the town’s white folks, but Hanna is determined. Hanna’s strong inner voice, the memory of her Mama and a few new friends help her stay strong and succeed.
This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg. I loved this book. It’s the early 1980s (does it alarm you, too, that the 80s are now considered “historical fiction” and David is prepping for his bar mitzvah. His two grandmothers, one Jewish and one Chinese, are not making things easy for him with their constant bickering over whether David’s Jewish or Chinese heritage should take precedence. On top of that, David and his friend are secretly building a fallout shelter, inspired by the movie, The Day After. Kids will love the humor, David’s character and the 1980s setting adds an interesting layer without becoming too remote for a contemporary audience.
Lawrence Yep’s Golden Mountain Chronicles is a 10 book series which tells the story of the Young family over many generations and two centuries. I haven’t read all 10 books yet, just a few, and they have all been page turners. My most recent read was Dragon’s Gate, set in 1867. Otter has always been in awe of his father and uncle who work for the railroad companies across the sea. When he gets there himself, however, working conditions, the bitter cold, racism and his uncle’s behavior serve to disillusion him. You don’t need to read the series in order (I haven’t) to enjoy them and Yep is a skilled author. You won’t want to put the book down. Best for ages 11 and up.
Realistic Contemporary Fiction
The Comeback by E.L. Shin. Maxine dreams of going to the Olympics, but her immediate goal is getting through Regionals. She’s also navigating the trials and tribulations of sixth grade while also getting in practice time on the rink. As the only Chinese American in her class, she endures microaggressions from classmates and begins to doubt herself. Kids will love this fantastic story about a likable character and the thrill of competition.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly. Apple is going through the difficult tween years. Her friends have mysteriously turned on her, she is teased about her looks at school, and she find her mother embarrassing, especially when she cooks Filipino food for her friends. To top it off, for some reason, her mother does not want her playing the guitar or listening to her father’s Beetles albums. I liked this book and it realistically captures the angst of the early teenage years.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim. Yumi Chung’s family owns a Korean restaurant but times are tough and the only way Yumi can continue her enrollment at her private school is to earn a scholarship. Her parents sign her up with a tutor but Yumi longs to hone her stand-up comedy. When an identity mix up lands Yumi in comedy camp, she gets twisted up in a pretzel of deception (yes, I made that terrible metaphor up myself). This a an entertaining story of a girl learning to speak up for herself, engaging in creative problem solving and figuring out exactly what she wants.
Karma Kullar’s Mustache by by Kristi Wientge. Karmajeet Khullar is going to be starting middle school soon, but she is worried about the 17 new dark hairs on her upper lip. She is anxious to get the help and advice from her best friend, but she has been acting so different lately and Karma feels lost. Karma’s Indian father is learning how to be a stay at home dad, and her white mother is very busy with work. The book addresses themes of middle school friendships and bullying and I love how Karma’s interfaith Sikh-Methodist household plays an integral role in her journey.
MORE BOOKS: Diverse contemporary fiction novels for tweens
Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. This funny and touching story of Ravi, an Indian immigrant adjusting to middle school and Joe, a boy who recently lost his best friend due to a move, is told in alternating voices. The two boys become friends when they unite again a school bully and one seriously crazy week full of laugh out loud humor ensues.
Same Sun Here is an epistolary novel by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. A school pen pal program matches Meena, an Indian immigrant girl in New York City, and River, the son of a coal miner in Kentucky. The two write thoughtful letters about their wildly different experiences but across the distance they learn to see their similarities as well as appreciating those differences. Meena describes her life as her father prepares for his citizenship exam and the family tries to avoid being discovered by the landlord as illegal sub-letters. River worries about his absent dad, ill mother and joins his activist grandmother in the fight to save the local area from the devastation caused by coal mines.
In Warp Speed by Lisa Yee we meet the same cast of characters that were introduced in the first of four companion novels: Millicent Min, Girl Genius is the first, and all four are worth reading. I just finished this book about Marley, a self-described geek and loser. Marley is getting bullied at school, he lives in a run down old movie theater that his parents own and is a major Star Trek fan. When his AV teacher takes ill, he is transferred to a home economics class. Changes start to happen and Marley makes a few new friends, finds joy in running and figures out a way to stand up to the bullies. Marley’s self-deprecating and humorous narration will make this book appealing to kids and Lee avoids pat and trite resolutions.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang. Lucy is all set to have the best sixth grade ever! But oh no! Her grandmother’s sister from China is now coming to stay with the family. And will be staying in Lucy’s room, no less. PLUS! Her parents are making her go to Chinese school. This is a great book that contains both a lot of humor and emotional depth.
Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman. In Indonesia, 14-year-old Nita wants to continue her education so she can become a writer but her family lacks the funds. Nita is determined, however. When her father falls ill, Nita takes over the food cart where he sells banana fritters to support the family. Her father, however, can’t stop spending money on alcohol so Nita must assert her independence and make choices that separate herself from her father. All the while, Nita uses her talents to imagine up stories about Dewi Kadits, a Javanese princess in traditional folklore. This was a wonderful book that will take readers to a part of the world they don’t frequently have the opportunity to visit in literature.
My Fate, According to the Butteryfly by Gail D. Villanueva. Ten-year-old Sab lives with her sister, mother and mother’s boyfriend in Manila. Her mother is out of town and when Sab sees a black butterfly she is convinced it is a sign of looming death. Sab wants to know why her sister, Ate Nadine, won’t speak to their father so Sab and her best friend, Pepper play at being spies in an attempt to get to the bottom of things. Eventually Sab and Ate Nadine attend an art show that reveals the truth about her father, who is a recovering drug addict. Readers will learn about the harsh war on drugs in present day Philippines and the important role forgiveness plays in recovery.
The Science of Unbreakable Things by Tae Keller. Natalie’s mother spends almost of of her time in bed, suffering from depression. Meanwhile, Natalie enters an egg-dropping science competition, thinking that if she wins the prize money she can buy a special blue orchid that is sure to return her mother to her. A diverse cast of characters surrounds the multi-racial Natalie, who is reluctant to confront her feelings about her mother. But by the end of her journey in this truly outstanding book, Natalie starts to come to terms with–like the eggs in her experiment– the fragility of people and everyone’s need for support from others.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang. Gosh, I loved this book. Mia Tang lives in a motel where her immigrant parents are the managers for an exploitative owner. Mia wants to be a writer but worries about her English skills. She takes over running the front desk of the motel and makes friends wherever she goes. She dreams of winning a writing contest so her parents can own their own hotel instead of working endlessly for little pay. Yang based the novel on her own experiences growing up in similar circumstances. A winning, funny and heartwarming novel; not to be missed.
Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai. Lai’s novel about a boy who emigrates to Australia with his mom and younger brother will touch your heart and tickle your funny bone. Woven into the narrative are comics revealing 11-year-old Jingwen’s emotional experiences as he grapples with learning a new language and navigating an unfamiliar culture. Jingwen is suffering from grief over losing his father and copes by baking cakes with his little brother. A wonderful book.
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Also check out: Diverse fantasy novels for tweens
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. This is possibly my favorite chapter book ever and I consider it a modern classic. Minli’s family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twist and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli’s quest, her father’s stories and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don’t forget its companion book, Starry River of the Sky.
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui. This tender book translated from the Japanese may stir memories of The Borrowers. But Inui’s tale of Little People and their caretakers touches on the seriousness and repercussions of WWII on civilians in Japan. The action begins in 1913 when Tatsuo Moriyama’s teacher, before she returns home to England, passes on to him the responsibility of looking after a family of Little People. When Tatsuo has his own family, his children take up the job of caretaker but when WWII forces them to the countryside, taking care of the Little People poses new difficulties. A wonderful, thoughtful book, first published in 1967.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. Korean mythology and science-fiction merge to create an exciting fantasy! Min’s mother has forbidden her to use her fox-magic, but Min feels stifled by domestic life and longs to join the Space Forces. When something mysterious happens to her brother, Jun, Min goes in search of the truth, encountering adventure beyond her wildest imagination.
The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim. In medieval China, Li Jing has a hard life. Her poor family sells her off to a family who intends to marry her to their toddler-son and she goes off to live with her new in-laws who turn out to be cruel and treat her as a slave. When she refuses to submit to them, they sell her off to a house for courtesans but she escapes and goes on a journey to find refuge. Li Jing is a fiercely strong girl character who increasingly gains confidence in herself and takes control of her own destiny.
Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava series) by Roshani Chockshi. My kids loved this adventure book and I love that the tale relies on Hindu mythology to take them on a fantastical journey. Aru has a tendency to stretch the truth, and while she is spending the school holiday at Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture (her mother is an archeologist), her classmates dare her to prove her claim that the Lamp of Bharata is cursed. But what happens next involves frozen classmates, the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, a demon and the Kingdom of Death! Your kids will be counting down the days until they can read the sequel.
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series) by Sayantani DasGupta draws upon Bengali folklore. Kiranmala, and Indian sixth-grade interdimensional demon slayer is concerned. A spell gone awry has sent her parents into another dimension and she is about to be eaten by a rakkhosh demon in her own kitchen. Thus begins a highly engaging and funny adventure in which Kiranmala rejects two princes’ offer to rescue her, travels to a magical dimension full of fantastic beasts, battles demons, solves riddles and saves New Jersey.
Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park. In this book, it is a traveller from the past who shows up in the present. Korean leader Koh Chu-mong surprises 12 year old Kevin by popping into is room one day. Koh Chu-mong is from 55 BCE. Kevin uses his math skills, the zodiac and Korean folk history to help the leader return to the past. There are not too many books that will teach your kids about ancient Korea while still delivering an engaging narrative so definitely pick this one up! Ages 8 and up.
Chapter Books for Age 7 -10
The Year of the Dog (series) by Grace Lin. I love all books by Grace Lin, and the Pacy series is a real treat. Pacy’s mom tells her that the year of the dog will be a lucky one. A charming story of a girl who sets out to have a great year and learns a lot along the way. Wonderful.
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. Jenny Han is best known as a YA author, but she has a couple of outstanding books for younger readers. After Clara Lee’s grandfather tells her that her bad dream means she will have good luck, this charming Korean-American girl looks at the rest of her day and her participation in the Little Miss Apple Pie contest in a positive light.
Alvin Ho by Leonore Look. I love Alvin Ho and cannot resist encouraging you (yet again) to pick up one of these books for your child. Alvin suffers from anxiety over many things and this leads him to become mute at school. Nevertheless, his family life, antics and tales of how he navigates “scary things” never fail to charm.
Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Leonore Look. There aren’t a lot of children’s books featuring Asian-American heroines, so the ebullient Ruby Lu is a welcome addition to the field. Ruby Lu’s Chinese heritage is an important part of the stories, especially when her cousin, Flying Duck comes to stay. I love the fun little flip book built into the first book as well as Ruby’s unique way of describing the world around her.
Anna Wang series by Andrea Cheng. Bookworm Anna Wang struggles with social drama at school, identifying with her Chinese heritage and embarrassment over her parents. A touching and compassionate story. In the second book, The Year of the Baby, her family adopts a child from China.
Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami. The Book Uncle is a friendly gentlemen who helps children in India find just the right book at the street corner lending library he runs. This is a terrific story about one girl’s determination to stand up and protest corrupt politicians who threaten to put Book Uncle out of business. Yasmin’s story will inspire your kids to work towards a goal and learn about the value of community involvement.
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. This a short chapter book which I initially put on an early chapter book list. Use it to spark a conversation about the economic role of women in different cultures. In Bangladesh, Naimi feels frustrated that as a girl she is constantly told she cannot work to earn money for her family. When she accidentally ruins her father’s rickshaw she disguises herself as a boy and meets someone who will change her life.
Jasmine Toguchi (series) by Debbi Michiko Florence. Each book in this fun new series incorporates Jasmine’s Japanese-American heritage into the story line. Intrepid Jasmine tackles pounding muchi rice, Japanese Girls’ Day, Japanese drumming, and more.
Meet Yasmin! (series) by Saadia Faruqi is a very early beginning chapter book series about a charming Pakistani-American girl. Each book is divided into four separate stories in which Yasmin uses her creative energy and high imagination to solve problems. Delightful.
Planet Omar by Zanib Mian. Omar is an appealing and relatable protagonist. His family is British-Pakistani and having just moved to London, Omar is feeling nervous about starting a new school and meeting new friends. In a funny-bone-tickling narrative, author Mian weaves important issues about diversity, Islam and the power of standing up for yourself.
- Pragmatic Mom has several wonderful book lists featuring books about Asian-Americans
- Learn more about Asian-Pacific Heritage Month.
- 6th grade summer reading for globally conscious kids