May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. A time when we celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In the face of recent anti-Asian bias, it is very important that we strive to acknowledge and extinguish those thoughts and actions that can perpetuate hate.
This month we honor the resilience of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. What better way to teach our students about their community than through books? Here is a list of 20 Books for Asian American and Pacific Islander Month that highlight their culture, perseverance, and traditions.
A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.
Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.
Book 2 – Drawn Together by Minh Le
When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens. With a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
Cora and Mama work together to cook up pancit for the family in this celebration of Filipino heritage and foods.
Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish.
With Mama’s help, Cora does the grown-up jobs like shredding the chicken and soaking the noodles. (Perhaps Mama won’t notice if she takes a nibble of chicken or sloshes a little water on the floor). Cora even gets to stir the noodles in the pot carefully– while Mama supervises. When dinner is finally served, her siblings find out that Cora did all their grown-up tasks. Cora waits anxiously to see what everyone thinks of her cooking.
A Korean-American girl celebrates food and family in this fun children’s book. Bee-bim bop (the name translates as “mix-mix rice”) is a traditional Korean dish of rice topped and then mixed, with meat and vegetables. In bouncy rhyming text, a hungry child tells about helping her mother make bee-bim bop. They go shopping, prepare ingredients, set the table, and finally sit down to enjoy a favorite meal.
Book 5 – Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis
Join the family, or ohana, as they farm taro for poi to prepare for a traditional luau celebration. “This is the land that’s never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old, that reach through the water, clear and cold, into the mud to pick the taro to make the poi for our ohana’s luau.”
As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from.
But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.
Book 8 – Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
It’s Chinese New Year, and Goldy Luck’s mother wants her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy from trying out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results.
In this funny and festive retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Natasha Yim and Grace Zong introduce a plucky heroine who takes responsibility for her actions and makes a new friend (and a whole plate of turnip cakes!), just in time for Chinese New Year.
Book 11 – No Kimchi for Me! by Aram Kim
Yoomi hates stinky, spicy kimchi―the pickled cabbage condiment served at Korean meals. So her brothers call her a baby and refuse to play with her.
Yoomi is determined to eat kimchi. She tries to disguise it by eating it on a cookie, on pizza, and in ice cream. But that doesn’t work. Then Grandma shows Yoomi how to make kimchi pancakes. This story about family, food, and a six-year-old “coming of age” has universal themes, and at the same time celebrates Korean culture. A kimchi pancake recipe and other back matter are included.
Too Many Mangos is the story of two young Hawaiians, Kama and Nani, who help their grandpa pick mangos from the giant mango tree. They pick large, small, ripe, half-ripe, and even green mangos. But this time, they’ve picked too many, so it’s time to load up the wagon and share the tasty treats with friends and family. Along the way, they show young readers the many ways to enjoy the treasured island fruit and introduce their friendly neighbors around the block. Tammy Paikai’s thoughtful text and Don Robinson’s vibrant illustrations capture the joys of island living while teaching a valuable lesson about friendship and community.
A vicious, destructive wind has been wreaking havoc in Waipio Valley causing the people distress. Homes are being destroyed, crops are blowing away, and the people need help. Hiiaka and her lightning pau (skirt) rush to the valley and confronts the wind. A raging battle ensues. Hiiaka throws lightning bolts and rain. The wind eventually dies down and is cast into a small cave where he can be heard howling to this day. The people of Waipio Valley are once again safe and can live their lives in peace. In simple, poetic language, this origin story about daytime, nighttime, and the seasons, gives small kids a taste of Hawaii’s rich history of storytelling.
Book 14 – Dear Juno by Soyung Pak
Juno’s grandmother writes in Korean and Juno writes in drawings, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exchange letters. From the photo his grandmother sends him, Juno can tell that she has a new cat. From the picture he makes for her, Juno’s grandmother can tell that he wants her to come for a visit. So she sends Juno a miniature plane, to let him know she’s on the way.
Suki’s favorite possession is her blue cotton kimono. A gift from her obachan, it holds special memories of her grandmother’s visit last summer. And Suki is going to wear it on her first day back to school — no matter what anyone says. When it’s Suki’s turn to share with her classmates what she did during the summer, she tells them about the street festival she attended with her obachan and the circle dance that they took part in. In fact, she gets so carried away reminiscing that she’s soon humming the music and dancing away, much to the delight of her entire class!
When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother―a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth―who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most.
Book 17 – Fish for Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki
With the family forced to leave their home and go to an internment camp, Jimmy loses his appetite. Older brother Taro takes matters into his own hands and, night after night sneaks out of the camp and catches fresh fish for Jimmy to help make him strong again.
Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, discover role models, and meet ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Whether they were breaking Olympic records, bringing education to millions of people around the world, or speaking up for the rights of others, these Asian-Americans broke stereotypes and took a stand to make the world a better place.
Highlighting the talent and contributions of Asian-American leaders and changemakers from around the United States, readers of all backgrounds will be empowered to discover what they too can achieve. These strong, courageous, talented, and diverse men and women have built a legacy of extraordinary achievements that will inspire generations to pursue their dreams.
So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except for Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
Say goodnight to the Aloha State!
Hawaii and its beautiful islands are waiting for your family to explore! Your toddler will visit colorful fish in coral reefs, play on sandy beaches, try local food, and so much more. Watch them learn about this tropical paradise of the Pacific.
Celebrating the various cultures represented in your classroom helps foster a sense of belonging and community among your students. If you have any books for Asian American and Pacific Islander Month you think we should add to this list, please mention them in the comments.
Written by Janessa Fletcher
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