10 Books to Celebrate AAPI Month
By Shuli de la Fuente-Lau
Guest blogger Shuli de la Fuente-Lau is the creator of @AsianLitforKids and the Content Lead at LittleFeminist.com, a monthly book club subscription and publishing house. She is also an assistant principal at an elementary school in Oakland, California, where she lives with her husband and two strong, spirited, and vibrant daughters. Shuli is proudly a third culture kid who holds her Chinese Malaysian American identity with gratitude. Follow @AsianLitforKids to discover more inclusive kids’ books starring characters of Asian and other BIPOC identities.
As we embark into Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it is a great time to intentionally celebrate an immensely diverse group of people. Did you know that Asia is the largest and most populated continent, and that the Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia regions make up hundreds of Pacific islands?
In the U.S. context, South Asians, Southeast Asians, East Asians, and Pacific Islanders have a myriad of immigration histories, customs, and languages. Our diversity is expansive and layered. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., and also have been in the U.S. for many generations! In fact, Filipinos first established settlements in the 1500s, when this land was still solely indigenous land and not yet the United States.
As you celebrate this month, may you enjoy books about the diversity, breadth, and depth of the numerous cultures that make up Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Enjoy books that are not just about food and festivals, but also enjoy books about revolution, books that dismantle the model minority myth, and books that reveal the multifaceted and nuanced identities of AAPIs.
The following books are all picture books, and suited for children ages 3-8.
1. I Am Brown by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat
This book is an ode to all who consider themselves Brown! While not exclusively about Asian characters, I love this one as a reminder that Asian Americans are brown, multifaceted, diverse, and hold many identities, even within one culture.
2. Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan
The story of Aleeya and Mommy, set in a kampung in Malaysia, is about the closeness of a mother-daughter bond, even through sickness. This heart-tugging story is a celebration of a Southeast Asian Muslim identity, one that is underrepresented in children’s literature.
3. The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee and Pascal Campion
This tale about Daniel, who has to follow his parents to their work as nighttime office janitors when childcare falls through, is a moving and imaginative story. It melds fantastical stories about dragons in a paper kingdom with an invitation to see the world through the eyes of others.
4. Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali
Laxmi notices her mooch, the Hindi word for mustache, for the first time, and together with her classmates, realizes how normal it is to have that layer of hair above our lips! This book about body positivity is full of joy, empowerment, and inclusivity.
5. Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
This gorgeous picture book biography is about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who loves drumming. It is a tale about her journey as she challenges the gendered notion that only boys should play the drums. This is a great one as a reminder that Asians are not a monolith and have made their homes all over the world.
6. Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim
Illustrated in graphic-novel style, this story tells the tale of a brother-and-sister pair who come to their grandmother's house, and find a kitchen in disarray, mysterious paw prints all over the floor, and an ajar cabinet door that leads... to a mysterious land. It is full of humor, delight, and is an immensely fun read.
7. Ho’onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale and Mika Song
The important book is based on a true story of Ho'onani, who wants to lead the boys-only hula troop at her school. However, she doesn’t feel wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). This wonderful story is a great celebration of Hawai’ian culture, māhū (the third gender), perseverance, and acceptance.
8. Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat
This story is about how a grandchild and his Thai-speaking grandparent find common ground despite not speaking the same language. It is a fun message about the power of art.
9. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
This book is a love song about family, culture, and self. This book is for Asians who have experienced the ridicule of slanty eye taunts and it is also especially for those who haven’t had that experience, as we all work on dismantling white supremacy standards of beauty and hold a more inclusive acceptance of being.
10. My Footprints by Bao Phi and Basia Tran
This story packs in issues of bullying, an intersectional identity, a multiracial Vietnamese and South Asian queer family, and complex emotions into one simple and visually stunning storyline.
This list is by no means an exhaustive or fully representative list. There are many more great books featuring Asian and Pacific Islander characters. For a more extensive list of books that celebrate Asian and other BIPOC identities, check out Asian Lit for Kids’ Bookshop!