This list of middle grade books by Asian and Asian-American authors has an East Asian and Pacific-Islander focus. The stories cover a wide variety of AAPI experiences and perspectives. Although I've only included one book by each author, they have all written a number of other titles that are waiting on library bookshelves to be checked out!
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The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
I absolutely loved this book and the story offers a particularly rich array of topics for discussion. Evan, who has an almost supernatural ability to sense when other people are lying, his sister and mother move to a small Virginia town from California. Evan's new class is in the middle of preparing for "Battlefield Day," a field day when students learn about the Civil War. Evan's research leads him to the discovery that Chinese-American soldiers fought in the war. While Evan becomes friends with Max, he also deals with a bully, Brady. But Max's intuition tells him the there is something deeper to Brady than just his outward meanness. Chapters tell the story from different viewpoints of people who live in the town. Ages 9 and up.
The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
This is a great friendship tale with lots of laughs, but also heart. Erica and Korean-American Matt have been best friends since fourth grade. Eric is moving to New York so the boys decide to have one last hurrah. They decide to sneak out of band trip to an amusement park in order to go to DefenderCon and meet the creator of their favorite comic character. As you might expect, hijinks ensue. Ages 9 and up.
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 attending private school is to earn a scholarship. Her parents sign her up with a tutor but Yumi longs to hone her stand-up comedy instead. 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 is an entertaining story of a girl learning to speak up for herself, engaging in creative problem solving and figuring out exactly what she wants. Kim's follow-up book, Make a Move, Sunny Park, is equally delightful. Ages 9 and up.
You Are Here: Connecting Flights, edited by Ellen Oh
This compelling middle grade novel is a collection of interwoven stories detailing the experiences of several Southeast Asian and East Asian American families at a Chicago airport. The stories are written by twelve different authors and explore identity, friendship, and family relationships. Some of the interactions of the characters cause ripple effects throughout the airport, and the protagonists of the stories learn how to speak up for themselves. Ages 9 and up.
The Takeout by Tracy Badua
Mila has recently moved to a new town, where her father and his business partner operate a food truck that serves up a delicious fusion of Filipino and Indian food. A pair of celebrity chefs are planning to open up a new restaurant nearby and Mila is excited to meet them, until she tastes their food and realizes they stole their recipes from the food truck! She and her friend, Ajay, hatch a plan to prove the chefs are frauds and save the food truck. Ages 8 and up.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (series) by Karina Yan Glaser
It is just before Christmas and the Vanderbeekers are going to be forced to move from their beloved Harlem brownstone unless they can change the mind of their grumpy landlord who just happens to be their upstairs neighbors. This creative, bi-racial family sets to work to win him over in this heartwarming story. Ages 8 and up.
Front Desk (series) by Kelly Yang
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 experiences anti-Chinese prejudice and witnesses racial bias against people of color in her neighborhood. 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. Ages 9 and up.
Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba
Originally published in Japan, Kashiwaba's novel is part summer adventure, part ghost story (not scary at all), part friendship tale. One night, Kazu sees a girl he's never seen before leaving an altar room. The same girl appears at school the next day and everyone but Kazu remembers her and insists she's always been a classmate. Kazu decides to do his summer project on Kimyō Temple Alley, which has links to ghosts and stories about the dead coming back to life. He befriends the mystery girl, Akari, and meets some of the older residents of the neighborhood who help him with his quest to solve the mystery of the alley. A suspenseful story that will introduce families to a fascinating world. Ages 9 and up.
Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman
In Indonesia, fourteen 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. Ages 10 and up.
The Comeback by E.L. Shen
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. Ages 9 and up.
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
This book will capture your child's attention from the very first page. Rich vocabulary and imagery drawn from Filipino folklore take readers and listeners on a thrilling and utterly unique adventure. Lalani's mother falls ill and Lalani sets out on a voyage across the sea to the legendary Mount Isa in hopes of curing her. Themes range from the limits of personal responsibility, familial relationships and loyalty, and abuse of power and leadership. Ages 9 and up.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Lily, her brother, and mother move in with her Korean grandmother. Halmoni (her grandmother) used to tell her bedtime stories based on Korean folklore and now Lily is seeing a magical tiger like the one her grandmother told her about. Halmoni tells Lily that the tiger wants something that she once stole, stories as stars which she put in jars. Halmoni is in poor health and Lily contemplates making a bargain with the tiger so her grandmother can heal. Marvelous and magical. Ages 10 and up.
Alliana Girl of Dragons by Julie Abe
This is a wonderful retelling of "Cinderella" with Japanese elements. After her father falls into the abyss, Alliana is forced to live with her stepmother and step-siblings, working in the family inn, run by her mean-spirited relatives. Alliana dreams of escaping and attending the Regional Ball where she might be chosen for the Royal Academy. She befriends a young witch, Nela Evergreen, and rescues a nightdragon hatchling. Together they take a risk that might help Alliana reach her dreams. Ages 9 and up.
Hamra and the Jungle of Memories by Hanna Alkaf
Set in Malaysia during pandemic lockdown, Alkaf's engaging story follows the fortunes of 13-year-old Hamra. Hamra is at home, looking after her grandparents while her father works for an aid organization. Her grandmother has been starting to wander and have trouble with her memory and Hamra hopes a special fruit from the Langkawi jungle will help. When she picks the fruit, she angers the weretiger and must enter into a bargain that takes her on a difficult physical and emotional journey. Ages 9 and up.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (series) by Grace Lin
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 twists 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 the companion books, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver. Ages 8 and up.
The Dragon Warrior (series) by Katie Zhao
Faryn lives as an outcast, training in secret as a warrior. One day, when on an errand in San Francisco's Chinatown, she encounters a stranger who is later revealed to be Erlang Shen, the god of war. Erlang Shen announces a quest from the Jade Emperor and Faryn's adventure begins. Ages 9 and up.
Dragon Pearl (series) 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. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Dragon Books and Series
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
This 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 even quite funny in parts. Kids everywhere will relate to Hà's description of learning English and its spelling and grammar rules! It is a story of fitting in, the importance of family, and hope even in sorrow. I loved it. Ages 8 and up.
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 Hanako's grandparents who are tenant farmers in a small Japanese village. Discuss with your children xenophobia, 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. Ages 9 and up.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
One day my son came home to tell me his 3rd grade teachers were reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson 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.
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. Ages 10 and up.
Lizard's Tale by Weng Wai Chan
Half-Cantonese, half-British Lizard went to live with his Uncle Archie after his parents died. However, when Uncle Archie disappeared unexpectedly, Lizard finds his way to Chinatown in Singapore, surviving by doing odd jobs. One of those jobs involves stealing a mysterious teak box and delivering it to an individual. When things don't go according to plan, Lizard is left with the box. He and his friend try to understand the mystery of the box, which somehow connects to the war, secret codes and the disappearance of Uncle Archie. Lizard's Tale has a lot going for it. An uncommon setting of 1940 Singapore, themes of belonging, prejudice and friendship, surprising turns of events and character revelations make this a book not to be missed. Ages 9 and up.
Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai
This is not a true graphic novel, but rather a hybrid. Lai's story about a boy who immigrates 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. Ages 8 and up.
The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao
Soontornvat was inspired by her own experience to pen this terrific graphic novel about a seventh grader who tries out for the cheerleading team. Christina, whose father immigrated from Thailand, and her best friend, Iranian-American Megan, decide to try out for cheerleading, in the hopes that it will help them make friends and rise in the ranks of the middle school social scene. For the most part, the girls enjoy the experience, but their friendship experiences some strain and both girls endure racist comments in their majority-white, small Texan town. Christina also enjoys a strong and loving relationship with her parents and extended family. Fabulous. ages 8 and up.
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
Santat's graphic novel memoir draws from his experience as a middle schooler on a school trip to Europe. Dan is unsure what to expect from the trip and isn't really looking forward to it. However, as he and his peers dive into new experiences (like drinking Fanta!) and get to know each other better, his negative assumptions about the trip diminish. He starts to have a good times, becomes brave enough to share his artwork with others, and even has a first girlfriend! Absolutely wonderful. Ages 8 and up.