Recent Award Books by AAPI Authors, Paired With Their First Novels

These outstanding works by 12 authors encompass historical fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, picture books, and more. 

Dhan Gopal Mukerji
Mukerji: Public domain

The national commemoration of Asian/Pacific American heritage became public law with President Jimmy Carter’s proclamation on March 28, 1979, designating the first 10 days of May to be “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” In 1992, President George H. W. Bush expanded the week into Asian/Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month.

Why May? The first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. on May 7, 1843. And on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad met in Promontory Summit, UT, connecting the entire country coast-to-coast, completed with the labor of some 15,000 Chinese workers.

Arguably the first major APA recognition in children’s books dates back to Dhan Gopal Mukerji winning the Newbery Medal in 1928 for Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, making him the first Asian American author—and first person of color—to receive the prestigious award.

“East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail.” This 1869 photo marking completion of the transcontinental railroad did not picture thousands of Chinese workers who built it.
Andrew J. Russell. Public Domain

The next APA Newbery Medalist wasn’t until 2002—Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard. In 2006, Gene Luen Yang broke the graphic title ceiling when American Born Chinese was a National Book Award (NBA) for Young People’s Literature Finalist. His Boxers & Saints earned him another NBA Finalist nod in 2013.

What a difference a century makes since Mukerji’s achievement: APA representation among Youth Media Award winners and other major award rosters indicates significant contributions to the literary landscape. With increased anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States (a 339% nationwide spike in 2021 alone), APA representation in children’s books has been a balm against racism, violence, and erasure. The books’ recognition is cause for hooting, hollering, and joyful applause. Here’s a sampling of award-winning APA authors’ 2020s triumphs (note: this is not a comprehensive list of awards), paired with their debut works for a look at their literary personal histories.

Traci Chee


The Reader. Putnam. 2016.

The first title of Chee’s bestselling trilogy introduces orphan Sefia on the run with her aunt Nin, until Nin is brutally taken. Sefia has what the kidnappers want—a book that has already cost too many lives. In her quest to rescue Nin, Sefia frees a mute boy from a locked cage. Lifesaving, transforming stories-within-stories are nested here.

Award title

We Are Not Free. Clarion. 2020.
APA Honor, 2022; National Book Award (NBA) Finalist, 2020; Printz Honor, 2021

Fourth-generation Japanese American Chee gets personal, infusing her own family’s history into a tight-knit group of Japanese American youth in San Francisco’s Japantown. Sixteen interlinked stories follow the teens through incarceration in prison camps for Americans of Japanese descent during WWII to the scattered restart of their postwar lives.

Photo by Topher Simon

Shing Yin Khor


The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito. Zest. 2019.

Khor introduces the “two Americas” that were their obsessions growing up: a Los Angeles “full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads” and the landscape of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, where the Joad family desperately pursues the American Dream. Khor adapts that urgent search for a new start to their “pilgrimage” as immigrant and artist traveling Route 66.

Award title

The Legend of Auntie Po. Kokila. 2021.
NBA Finalist, 2021.

“If history failed us, fiction will have
to restore us,” Khor writes in an author’s note. Historical erasure of Asian Pacific Americans is not new. Khor’s middle grade tale is a mesmerizing reclamation of the late-1800s Chinese American experience through the story of young Mei and her father, who works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp.



Malinda Lo


Ash. Little, Brown. 2009.

In Lo’s not-quite-Cinderella retelling, young Ash loses her mother, and her father remarries and brings home three unpleasant strangers. His death relegates Ash to relentless work. She wanders the woods to escape from her cruel stepfamily and falls under the spell of brooding fairy Sidhean…until she meets the bewitching Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Who will win Ash’s heart?

Award title

Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton. 2021.
APA Award, 2022; NBA Winner, 2021; Printz Honor, 2022; Stonewall Award, 2022

In 1954 San Francisco, Lily’s childhood astronaut dreams have matured into hopes for a career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Meanwhile, her burgeoning gay sexuality is something to be kept secret, and anti-Chinese McCarthyism threatens Chinatown. Lily, 17, makes her first white friend, Kath, with whom she bravely steps out beyond the familiar. “Lily’s story,” Lo writes in her author’s note, “is my attempt to draw some of this history out from the margins.”

Photo by Sharona Jacobs

Christina Soontornvat


The Changelings. Sourcebooks. 2016.

Izzy, 11, has already lived in nine different cities. Now her family’s landed at Grandma Jean’s old house—although she’s dead. They apparently live next door to a witch, but Marian Malloy was Grandma’s best friend...and she’s a fairy, not a witch. She also might be Izzy’s only hope for finding her missing little sister.

Award title

The Last Mapmaker. Candlewick. 2022.
Newbery Honor, 2023; Walter Honor, 2023

For 12-year-old Sai, being Master Mapmaker Paiyoon’s assistant means daily joy in her work and relentless fear of her lowly background being discovered. Joining Paiyoon on a royal voyage to chart southern waters is a dream come true—and not only because she’ll be able to delay her mandated 13th-birthday reveal of her lineage.

Soontornvat was also a double Newbery Honoree in 2021 for All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team and A Wish in the Dark (both Candlewick, 2020)!

Photo by Sam Bond

Sabaa Tahir


An Ember in the Ashes. Razorbill. 2015.

After witnessing her grandparents’ murder and the kidnapping of her brother Darin by Martial forces, Laia seeks the Resistance. It may be her only chance to save Darin. Meanwhile, Blackcliff Academy is about to graduate its latest class of elite, vicious “Masks,” among them Elias, who has spent years plotting his escape. Laia must infiltrate the Academy to free Darin and challenge the Martial Empire.

Award title

All My Rage. Razorbill. 2022.
NBA Winner, 2022; Printz Award, 2023

Two Pakistani American teens survive an onslaught of challenges in a California desert town. Salahudin and Noor grew up together, both beloved by Salahudin’s mother, Misbah. Now Misbah is dead; Salahudin’s father succumbs to alcoholism; the family’s motel is threatened. Noor dreams of escaping her vicious uncle and attending college. Can the pair save each other?

Ayesha Ahmad Photography

Lisa Yee


Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Arthur A. Levine. 2003.

Millicent Min, who’s skipped five grades, learns that using just the brain does not a whole person make. With the help of her wacky grandma, a new best friend, a boy she thought she hated, and a volleyball team, Millicent proves that she’s just a regular kid on the journey toward adolescence.

Award title

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance. Random. 2022.
NBA Finalist, 2022; Newbery Honor, 2023

Yee combines neglected U.S. history, family legends, and the adventures of 11-year-old Los Angeleno Maizy at her grandparents’ Chinese restaurant in Last Chance, MN. Maizy’s grandfather is ill; this may be Mom’s last opportunity to make things right with her parents. Yee calls her novel “a tribute to my grandparents and to all the other immigrants who made the journey to America.” In response to rising anti-Asian hate, Yee wondered, “What can I do?” Her answer: “Keep writing.”

Emi Fujii Photography

Terry Hong was Library Journal’s 2016 reviewer of the year for fiction and audio.

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