15 Middle Grade & YA Graphic Novels & Audiobooks for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

For readers who enjoy or want to explore reading novels in different formats, here are 15 titles about AAPI characters or by AAPI creators to recommend for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

For readers who enjoy or want to explore reading novels in different formats, here are 15 titles about AAPI characters or by AAPI creators to recommend for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.  


 Before Takeoff by Adi Alsaid. Listening Library. ISBN 9780593416723. 
Gr 7 Up–James and Michelle are about to meet-cute in Terminal B of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The pair will share reality-defying adventures while audiobook narrator Wheeler gives listeners a showcase of cranky shop staff, anxious travelers, racist strangers, wannabe rebels, and more. VERDICT Wheeler beguilingly ensures Alsaid’s sci-fi/thriller/romance takes off.

In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo. narrated by Sura Siu. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780063119017.
Gr 5 Up–Kuo’s debut verse novel is an autobiographically inspired, familiar immigration story, perceptively enhanced by polyglot Siu’s fluency in Cantonese. In September 1980, Ba, Ma, and 10-year-old Anna are living in Los Angeles County, their new life rife with daily challenges. VERDICT Siu’s soft, consistent delivery is a soothing balm even in the most uncomfortable moments; new immigrants seeking their stories in books will discover empathic resonance here.

When Clouds Touch Us by Thanhhà Lai. narrated by Brigid Mai Khanh Leahy. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780063047037. 
Gr 3-7–Tween Hà is finally feeling settled in Alabama, where she and her brothers arrived with their mother as refugees after fleeing Vietnam. The promise of better opportunities in Texas, however, causes another reluctant uprooting. Vietnamese Irish American Leahy makes her aural debut as Hà’s optimal bilingual cipher, effortlessly moving between languages with youthful, hopeful vocalization. VERDICT Libraries should prepare for significant demand in all formats.

[Read: 2023 Books from Asian/Pacific American Award Winners] 

 The Supernatural Society by Rex Ogle. Harlequin Audio. (Supernatural Society: Bk. 1). ISBN 9781488212949. 
Gr 4-6–The first of Ogle’s new trilogy introduces three unlikely heroes-in-the-making tasked with saving their town of East Emerson, MA, from destruction. Versatile Timothy Andrés Pabon distinctly animates the print into aural mirth. VERDICT Pabon exuberantly transforms this not-quite-frightfest into a fabulous funshow.

 The Last ­Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat. OrangeSky Audio. ISBN 9781667068220. 
Gr 3-7–Thai American and double Newbery Honoree Soontornvat gets culturally and linguistically matched with Thai-fluent, (self-described) “blended” Asian American (of Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese heritage) Sura Siu for engrossing high-seas exploits in search of mythical lands. VERDICT Soontornvat’s fans will surely appreciate access via multiple mediums; Siu assures listeners chills and thrills.

 New from Here by Kelly Yang. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797136608. 
Gr 4-7–Narrator Justin Chien elevates Yang’s latest, expertly distinguishing every member of the biracial Wei-Evans family. In January 2020, the United States is Covid-free, so Chinese American Mom and white American Dad reluctantly split the family, with Mom and three kids returning to their Oakland home while Dad and pup remain in Hong Kong for work. VERDICT Listen while you can: a new Netflix series just grabbed Chien as Michelle Yeoh’s costar, surely curtailing Chien’s short-but-impressive audiobook career.


Graphic Novels

 PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together by Nathan Fairbairn. illus. by Michele Assarasakorn. Penguin/Razorbill. ISBN 9780593351857.
Gr 3-6–This upbeat series opener centers on Gabby, a Canadian fifth grader and her two besties, who bond over their love of animals. Lamenting that none of them can own a pet, the girls start a neighborhood dog-walking business: PAWS (Pretty Awesome WalkerS). VERDICT Reminiscent of Ann M. Martin’s “The Babysitters Club,” this series starter will be a surefire hit with Raina Telgemeier fans and any reader seeking a solid friendship story. Laugh-out-loud funny and full of heart.

 Freestyle by Gale Galligan. illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338045819. 
Gr 5 Up–A commitment to representing the joys and ultra-specific struggles of adolescence shines through in this story about break-dancing, bad grades, and yo-yo masters. VERDICT A visually kinetic, emotionally complex story of finding a sense of self while navigating relationships and expectations. Fun and full of heart.

 Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American by Laura Gao. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063067776.
Gr 7 Up–In this poignant memoir, Gao conveys her love for her home country and her journey as an immigrant. Her voice is grounded yet humorous; she illustrates a more nuanced Wuhan than the one depicted in current media, while conveying the difficulty of being a part of American society yet never feeling truly at home. VERDICT A tender story of self-acceptance that lifts the story of Wuhan beyond COVID and shines light on a region with a rich culture and history.

[Read: 10 Standout Graphic Novels by AAPI Creators]

Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy by Jonathan Hill. illus. by author. Candlewick/Walker. ISBN 9781536216462. 
Gr 5-8–Tommy is a member of a family of lizard people who had to flee their subterranean homeland due to a crumbling society and dwindling resources. Now attending school as a seventh grader, Tommy misses his birthplace and is frustrated by having to wear a disguise and fit in among surface-dwellers. VERDICT A touching story for anyone who has ever been an outsider, this book is an empowering tale of being comfortable in your own skin, seeking out those with whom you can bond, and learning how to navigate this bizarre and confusing society in which we live.

 Squished by Megan Wagner Lloyd. illus. by Michelle Mee Nutter. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338568943.
Gr 3-6–Avery Lee is the second oldest in a Korean American family of seven kids. She loves her siblings but feels overwhelmed by them. Avery’s plights are amusing and approachable, with art from Nutter that is gentle and light-filled. The chaos and love of the house is captured adroitly in the panels. VERDICT This engaging graphic novel tackles very real feelings and will keep readers invested in Avery’s life. Highly recommended.


 In Limbo by Deb JJ Lee.  illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781250252654. 
Gr 8 Up–Lee’s powerful memoir explores coming of age as a Korean American teen in New Jersey. After surviving a suicide attempt, Deb begins to work through her trauma in sessions with a therapist, revealing more of her past. Readers see how fraught her relationship is not just to her mother, but to her entire Korean heritage, from which she distanced herself steadily until even her first language was foreign to her. Those seeking realistic depictions of lived teen mental health experiences will find this beautiful work rewarding. VERDICT Recommended for graphic nonfiction collections.

 The Tryout: A Graphic Novel by Christina Soontornvat. illus. by Joanna Cacao. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338741308. 
Gr 5-8–Christina Soontornvat starts 7th grade without any classes alongside her best friend, Megan. With a dad who’s Thai and a mom who’s white American, she feels like an outsider in many ways, whether due to fashion, Thai lunches, love of fantasy fiction, or having a last name that teachers fumble. VERDICT Readers of this empowering graphic memoir will want to invite Christina to sit at their table to share food, stories, and the secrets to self-confidence.

 Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang. ­illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338832686. 
Gr 4 Up–In 1981, Feng-Li, 10, travels to California from Taiwan with her family for what she thinks is a vacation, but her parents planned for the siblings to stay in “the land of opportunity.” When both parents have to return to Taiwan, the undocumented siblings are on their own. VERDICT At once common and unique, this is a compelling story of immigration and family bonds; highly recommended.

 Tidesong by Wendy Xu. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780062955807. 
Gr 5-8–In a magical world, the balance of the environment is held together by a symbiotic relationship between sea dragons and humans. Sophie, a young witch desperate to prove her ability, attempts a powerful spell and disrupts the balance between wind and water. VERDICT Sophie’s struggles and growth will resonate with younger readers, especially those who love the “Tea Dragon Society” and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Relatable and heartwarming.

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