22 Stellar Reads for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and these titles, which include YA and middle grade fiction, picture books, and nonfiction, are perfect to recommend to readers both this month and year-round.

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and these titles, which include YA and middle grade fiction, picture books, and nonfiction, are perfect to recommend to readers both this month and year-round. For more titles, check out this post.

Picture Books

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho. illus. by Dung Ho. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062915627.
 K-Gr 3–A young girl of Asian heritage who doesn't share physical traits with those around her finds beauty in her uniqueness. Instead of having big eyes with long lashes, hers “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” At home, the girl celebrates all she shares with her Mama, Amah, and little sister Mei-Mei.

Bindu’s Bindis by Supriya Kelkar. illus. by Parvati Pillai. Sterling. ISBN 9781454940203.
K-Gr 3–With warm storytelling and dazzling art, Kelkar and Pillai welcome readers into Bindu’s world. Bindu is a young South Asian girl who loves to dance almost as much as she adores the bindis her grandmother mails her each month from India. When her grandmother Nani comes to visit, she helps Bindu courageously ignore xenophobic protesters and perform at her school’s talent show. 

Sunday Funday in Koreatown by Aram Kim. illus. by Aram Kim. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823444472.
PreS-Gr 1–Yoomi (an anthropomorphic black-and-white cat) loves her Sunday Fundays, but this one is turning out all wrong. At the Korean grocery, someone eats the last hotdog twist (her favorite) seconds before she can get it. The detailed illustrations show Koreatown in all its glory and poor Yoomi in all her disappointment. Luckily, the last stop is to visit Grandma, who saves the day. 

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang. illus. by Charlene Chua. S. & S. ISBN 9781534463639.
PreS-K–When Ms. Mary reads a picture book about dragons to her class, Amy Wu, whom readers first met in Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, is intrigued by these new creatures. Amy, with the help of friends and family, crafts a patchwork hybrid dragon, neither fully Chinese nor completely European, which is a hit in the classroom. Amy is Asian American; her classmates are depicted with a range of skin tones.

Middle Grade

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063044708.
Gr 4-6–At home in Karachi, Pakistan, Nurah Haqq enjoys a life surrounded by family, friends, and visits to the ocean. A perfect day at the beach becomes the worst day when Nurah’s father announces that he has accepted a job offer in America. Farqui beautifully weaves Urdu and Arabic terms, and Islamic concepts throughout the text, crafting an unapologetic and authentic look at what it means to grow up Pakistani and Muslim in America.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. Random. ISBN 9781524715700.
Gr 4-7–Lily has always loved her halmoni’s stories: Korean folktales that begin, “long, long ago, when tiger walked like a man.” But Lily never expected to encounter the fierce magical tiger in her sick grandmother’s basement, or to strike a deal to heal Halmoni by releasing the powerful stories she stole as a young woman. Keller weaves ancient folklore with Korean history through contemporary magical realism.

Amina’s Song by Hena Khan. S. & S./Salaam Reads. ISBN 9781534459885.
Gr 4-7–This sequel to Amina's Voice sees the heroine figuring out her place in the world. Amina loved the month she spent visiting family in Pakistan, but she struggled with not feeling Pakistani enough, and back home, she tries to find a way to show her friends the many facets of her heritage. A beautiful story for middle graders discovering who they are. 


Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean. Flatiron. ISBN 9781250766601.
 Gr 8 Up–Izumi, a Japanese American high school student, has a pretty average life: a band of awesome misfit friends, a delicious diner where she’s a regular, and a loving mother—everything a high school senior needs. Or is it? Told from Izumi’s point of view, the story explores the deep feelings of loneliness BIPOC children sometimes feel when they are the minority within their American town and have little connection to their ancestors’ birth country.

 A Pho Love Story by Loan Le. S. & S. ISBN 9781534441934. 
Gr 7 Up–This romantic comedy, told in alternating first-person chapters, is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet that serves up family secrets and self-discovery with a side of hoisin sauce. The Mais and the Nguyens have been rivals ever since Linh’s family opened a restaurant across the street from Bao’s. But during senior year, they suddenly find themselves working together for the school newspaper on a series of local restaurant reviews. Readers will appreciate the food references and the Vietnamese language interspersed throughout the book. 

Heiress Apparently by Diana Ma. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419749964.
Gr 9 Up–Gemma Huang, a Chinese American teen from Illinois, is taking a gap year after high school to pursue her dream of acting. When she lands a major role in a new movie adaptation of M. Butterfly, Gemma is thrilled, until she learns that the filming will take place in Beijing. Defying her parents’ lifelong ban on traveling to China, Gemma accepts the role. Ma successfully creates vivid settings in Los Angeles and China as she uncovers important issues facing Asian Americans, including family expectations, identity, sacrifice, and honor.

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316492355.

Gr 9 Up–Danyal Jilani gets by in high school by putting in as little effort as possible, and he dreams of a future where he can pursue his true passions. In his case, this means culinary arts and wooing the most beautiful (and unattainable) girl in school. Masood places Danyal at an intersection between South Asia and America, and it is a pleasure to watch Danyal’s growth and development as he grapples with both historical prejudices against India and contemporary prejudices within his own community. 

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park. Sourcebooks/Fire. ISBN 9781728209425.
Gr 9 Up–In this #OwnVoices story, Sunny Song, a Korean American rising high school senior living in Los Angeles, has a YouTube channel with nearly 100,000 followers, but when her clumsiness results in her accidentally removing her top while baking during a livestream, the incident becomes known as #BrowniePorn. Sunny’s parents send her to Sunshine Heritage Farms in Iowa for a digital detox session. Throughout the story, Sunny navigates her Korean American identity and her online persona, as well as her relationship with her family.

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk. S. & S. ISBN 9781534474376.
Gr 8 Up–In this enemies-turned-lovers #OwnVoices romance, two students compete to rule the Korean beauty products scene in their school. Senior Valerie Kwon and her cousin Charlie rule the school business field, selling K-beauty products out of Val’s locker. All is well until new student Wes Jung poses a threat by selling merchandise and products from the hottest K-pop band. A great romance that depicts Asian American and international identities.

The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk. Little, Brown/Poppy. ISBN 9780316703406.
Gr 9 Up–Alina Keeler, who is half white and half Japanese, was born to be a professional ballerina, and that is the only life she has ever known, until a devastating accident forces her out of the ballet world and back into normal high school. Central to the story is Alina and her sister Josie’s relationship and the cultural discrimination in the ballet industry. Musical theater, ballet, the arts, and culture merge into a coming-of-age story that will resonate with teens.

A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen. Razorbill. ISBN 9780593117521.
Gr 7 Up–Determined to push back against the traditional values held by her Taiwanese immigrant mother, Liza Yang constantly battles against the model minority student image that her mother tries to mold her into. But Liza and her mother do share a love for baking. Once Liza has agreed to help Mrs. Yang at their family bakery’s annual baking competition, she finds herself surrounded by contestants—all from well-off Asian families—that her mother has picked for her to date. 

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon. Putnam. ISBN 9781984812230.
 Gr 7 Up–Most of the time, Sunny Dae is OK with being a nerd, despite the bullying and casual racism he experiences at school for being Korean American in a mostly white community. But Sunny is jealous of his older brother, Gray, a musician living in Hollywood. When his parents’ colleagues bring their teenage daughter, Cirrus (also Korean American), to Sunny’s house, Sunny makes a split-second decision to pretend that Gray’s bedroom is his own and that he is the one in a rock band.


Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory by Julie Abery. ­illus. by Chris Sasaki. Kids Can. ISBN 9781525300318.
K-Gr 3–This short, brightly illustrated picture book tells the story of Japanese Hawaiian swim coach Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club’s journey to the 1948 London Olympics. Sasaki’s upbeat and colorful digital illustrations add to the story’s joyful tone with lush depictions of Maui. This book is sure to appeal to young readers and is a great contribution to sports history as well as Hawaiian history. 

Awesome Asian Americans: 20 Stars Who Made America Amazing by Phil Amara & Oliver Chin. illus. by Juan Calle. Immedium. ISBN 9781597021500.
 Gr 6-10–This anthology spotlights 20 historical and contemporary Asian Americans who “came from different places to contribute to the United States and change it for the better.” The text celebrates trailblazers including Disney artist Tyrus Wong, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, basketball player Jeremy Lin, wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and model Chrissy Teigen. 

While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063017115.
Gr 6 Up–Fearing that she no longer understands Japanese or is connected with her culture, 12-year-old Brown’s parents send her to live with her grandmother in Tokyo for five months the summer after sixth grade. This memoir artfully depicts Brown’s experience as a child who feels pulled between two cultures.

The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung. illus. by Julie Kwon. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780759554955.
Gr 1-4–Hazel Ying Lee was a fearless young woman who, from the moment she first rode in an airplane, dreamed of flying them. She worked to save money and earned her pilot’s license in less than a year even though no one would hire a Chinese American woman. When World War II broke out, Lee found her chance, joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots and becoming the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781580897891.
 Gr 4-7–This well-researched primary source provides a close look at the daily lives of Japanese American children and their families who were forced out of their homes during World War II. An illuminating addition to all library shelves, it challenges readers to rethink their assumptions about history.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo. Norton. ISBN 9781324002871.
 Gr 8 Up–This narrative nonfiction title chronicles the brutal 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, which led to the first federal civil rights case involving an Asian American. As the author reflects in her afterword, Chin’s story is an important parallel to today’s societal strife and the rise in racism and violence against Asian Americans who have been unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic

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