10 Books to Read to Kids During AAPI Heritage Month

10 Books to Read to Kids for AAPI Heritage Month - Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight / Getty Images

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month began in 1992 when an act of Congress declared May the official month to celebrate. Congress chose May to commemorate two momentous occasions: the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in May of 1843, and the transcontinental railroad was completed in May of 1869. Most of the workers on the railroad were Chinese immigrants.

It’s important to recognize that AAPI is a broad group made up of many cultures. Within the AAPI community, there are over 50 ethnic groups that speak over 100 languages! From Korean to Indonesian to Fijian to Pakistani, AAPI covers a wide range of unique and special cultures. 

One way to help your child understand the vast Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures—whether they identify culturally or ethnically as AAPI or not—is through books. For AAPI children, it’s important for them to be validated through relatable characters in books that celebrate their cultures. For non-AAPI children, diverse books help form empathy towards others. The Asian American Pacific Islander community deserves to be celebrated, acknowledged, and explored. Here are a few ways to do it through books with your children.

I Dream of Popo

Book cover of I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne

Written by Livia Blackburne, who is of Taiwanese descent, and illustrated by Julia Kuo, who is of Chinese descent, "I Dream of Popo" is a book about a young girl who has to leave her beloved grandmother behind in Taiwan when she comes to the United States. It outlines all the things she misses about her Popo and highlights some of their shared memories together in Taiwan. 

The book has won several awards, including a New York Public Library Best Book of 2021 award. Blackburne is also a New York Times bestselling author. The dedication is to Blackburne's own Popo. 

Why We Love It

Not only is it a visually beautiful book with a heartwarming story about a girl and her grandmother, but it also outlines some of the emotional hardships children might face when moving far away from loved ones and gives them examples of how to preserve memories and process their feelings.

Little Dumplings

Book cover of Little Dumplings by Jekka and Krissy Kuhlmann

Tech entrepreneur Jekka Kuhlmann’s childhood growing up as half Chinese, half American, and in an expat community in Dubai informed her book, "Little Dumplings." As a child, she and her friends of varying ethnicities, nationalities, and descents would swap dumplings at lunchtime. Written in conjunction with her cousin Krissy Kuhlmann, who is Korean American, it’s a look into how, at the core, we are all actually the same.

Why We Love It

This book doesn’t just highlight Asian cultures. It also includes dumplings such as sadza, a dumpling popular in Zimbabwe, and Italian ravioli, driving home the point that while we may have different names for things, we are all the same at our core. It’s a friendly and approachable board book about cultural diversity that will resonate with young children.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

Book cover of Eyes that Kiss in the corners by Joanna Ho

The daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, Joanna Ho is the author of several books. (She’s also a mom, too!) Her children’s book "Eyes that Kiss in the Corners" is a New York Times bestselling book about celebrating differences, particularly Asian eyes. By the end, the little girl main character gains self-acceptance and sees her eyes as something to be admired, not downplayed. 

Why We Love It

Not only does it teach about acceptance, but this book also shows a great generational bond between a grandmother, mother, and daughter. Its focus on strong female role models and characters—the only man is a man who appears in the background on one page—will have readers aged kindergarten through third grade enraptured.

Meet Yasmin!

Book cover of Meet Yasmin! By Saadia Faruqi

Author Saadia Faruqi has written about her Muslim experiences for publications, so it was only natural that she’d transfer these experiences into a children’s book series. "Meet Yasmin!" is the first in the series. It is a story about a young Pakistani girl and her multigenerational family. Aimed at the early reader group, the book presents realistic scenarios and challenges that will feel familiar to this age group. It is peppered with Muslim traditions and customs and uses Urdu words. It’s illustrated by Hatem Aly, an Egyptian-born illustrator.

Why We Love it

It’s part of a book series, where Yasmin’s imagination has her in title roles ranging from "Yasmin the Librarian" to "Yasmin the Recycler." The spunky character Yasmin is a vehicle for children to learn about imagination, creativity, and curiosity, as well as the world around them. The entire series also exists in Spanish translation.

Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala

Book cover of Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel

Perfect for first or second graders, "Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala" is a story about a girl of Indian descent. Her grandparents teach her about India and Indian culture every day, despite being the only Indian family on the street. They show her that India is wherever they are. Her grandmother proclaims that “sharing India with others is the very best way to carry it with you.” Author Meena Patel is also the illustrator.

Why We Love It

The book paints a very vivid and real picture of what immigrant communities and families are like in the 21st century and shows examples of why you should be proud of your heritage and culture, even if you aren’t in your family’s country of origin. It breaks culture down into manageable and tangible items and feelings and even has an index with explanations and definitions of the Gujarati words Patel uses throughout the book.

Cora Cooks Pancit

Book cover of Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore

In "Cora Cooks Pancit," Cora is a little girl who longs to cook like the grownups around her. They cook traditional Filipino foods like lumpia, adobo, and pancit, a noodle dish. One day, she finally gets to be the helper chef with her mother. She tells her family after dinner that she was the chef who helped her mother prepare dinner, and waits to see what their reaction is. 

Why We Love It

Food is central to many cultures, including Filipino. This book helps children understand a real-life, tangible situation like the desire to help a parent cook, and celebrates Filipino food and culture. Author Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young has a Filipino-Polynesian-Indonesian-Italian background, offering a unique perspective. She is also a mother who enjoys passing down recipes to her daughter. There is a recipe for pancit at the end of the book.

'Ohana Means Family

Book cover of Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis

A family in Hawaii prepares for a traditional luau and brings readers along for the journey in "'Ohana Means Family." This award-winning book starts by explaining the family's process for making poi, which is made from taro that the family farms. It shows how interconnected the world is through the earth.

Why We Love It

The book is dotted with Hawaiian words and phrases, and there’s also a glossary at the back. Author Ilima Loomis is based in Hawaii (her name, ‘ilima, is the flower of Oahu), and the illustrations by Kenard Pak, who is of Korean descent, bring a liveliness to the book.

Danbi Leads the School Parade

Book cover of Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

In "Danbi Leads the School Parade," new-to-America Danbi is nervous about her first day of school. When she gets there, she doesn’t know what to do or how to act—and everyone is speaking to her in English. But in the end, Danbi is triumphant and wins over her class thanks to her vivid imagination and can-do spirit.

Why We Love It

While Danbi is new to America, this book applies to any kid who is facing a big change, like moving schools. Author Anna Kim immigrated to the United States as a child, so her experience helped form Danbi’s story. The lyricism in the book is charming, and the message of how to straddle two cultures is an important one for many young children who might be facing the same situation.

I Am Golden

Book cover of I Am Golden by Eva Chen

"I Am Golden" centers around Mei, a Chinese-American girl. It goes through all of the things that her family tells her about America and their life, including why they came and what they hope for her. It is explicit in the feelings in its storytelling, with lines like, “We know you feel alone sometimes and people tell you that you’re different and you can’t be one of them.” These validating phrases are accompanied by illustrator Sophie Diao’s creations.

Why We Love It

Chinese-American author Eva Chen is a bestselling author with a large platform thanks to over 1 million followers on Instagram (her employer). Her ability to draw on the Chinese-American experience is personal, and the book reads like a love letter to her culture and immigrant parents. She has widely said that she wrote it because it was a book she could have used growing up herself.

Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us

Book cover of Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us by Analiza Quiroz Wolf

"Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us" is a kid's chapter book that outlines the stories of 16 inspiring Asian Americans. The book aims to highlight their contributions and celebrates names that often aren’t as prominent in hopes of inspiring children of all races to accomplish their dreams, despite any challenges they might face.

Why We Love It

There are recognizable names like Kristy Yamaguchi and Yo-Yo Ma, but the book also touches on people like Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who perished in "The Challenger" crash, and Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, a free online education platform that has almost 2 billion views. 

2 Sources
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  1. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. About Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

  2. National Education Association. Why we need diverse books.

By Lauren Finney
Lauren is an experienced print and digital content creator with an extensive list of clients whom she has served through editorial consulting, content creation, branding, copywriting, native content, branded content, and more.