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As Instagram book reviewers who focus on girl power and Asian representation, we know just how powerful children’s literature can be in unpacking biases and expanding worldviews.
The Asian American Pacific Islander experience can often feel like a narrow one, even more so for women and girls. We have seen it in the dearth of picture books that truly reflects the world’s diversity. On our platforms, we work on intentionally pushing the envelope on this narrative.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, but in the meantime, we’ve curated an amazing list of 12 of our favorite books showcasing the strength and diversity of the AAPI experience. Enjoy these books as you and your family expand this narrative and celebrate the AAPI community this month and year-round!
1. "Mommy Sayang" by Rosana Sullivan
Recommended age: 3-5 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a book about the strong bond between mom and child
In a nutshell: Aleeya and Mommy love sharing life together in the kampung (Malaysian village) - from hanging clothes, to watering the hibiscus flowers, to cooking up a spicy meal. But when Mommy gets sick, Aleeya waits and waits for her to get better. Nothing seems to help until Aleeya brings her Mommy a red hibiscus flower and repeats a phrase that her Mommy used to always say to her.
Why we love it: This story is stunning, simple and full of emotion. We love that it showcases a Muslim Southeast Asian identity (which is sorely underrepresented in children’s lit)!
Favorite quote: “‘Mommy sayang, will you always be by my side?’ ‘Inshallah, Aleeya sayang, I will always be by your side,’ Mommy would reply, with a kiss on Aleeya’s forehead.”
2. "Danbi Leads the School Parade" by Anna Kim
Recommended age: 3-7 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a book about new beginnings for your little one.
In a nutshell: It’s Danbi’s first day of school in America, and she has no idea what anyone is saying. Despite her best efforts, she can't seem to understand the activities in class. Nobody plays with her. But when it’s lunch time, well, Danbi knows all about that! She brings out delicious yams, crystal dumplings, mini skewers, rainbow drops, and half-moon rice cakes dipped in sweet sesame. Everyone is curious and wants a try at her chopsticks. Danbi even starts a lunch time parade with them. Her classmates join in with juice boxes, lunch boxes and utensils... and it's just the thing to help Danbi make her first friend!
Why we love it: This book has all the feels, and it captures a character who despite all the newness and uncertainty, exhibits such confidence and joy.
Favorite quote: “I had a feeling I might like it here.”
3. "Ho’Onani: Hula Warrior" by Heather Gale
Recommended age: 4-8 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a gorgeous book that honors non-binary identities through the lens of Hawai’ian culture.
In a nutshell: Ho’onani Kamai does not see herself as a wahine (girl) or as a kāne (boy); rather she sees herself as a māhū ('in the middle'). So, when there are auditions for the high school kāne to perform a traditional hula chant, she knows she just has to try out. Despite misgivings from her sister, Ho’onani holds her ground. With courage, strength and the history of Hawai’i in every step of the hula dance, Ho’onani becomes the one the children all look up to.
Why we love it: Based on a story about a real person, the journey of courage that Ho’onani takes the reader on is not only inspiring, but a shining example of doing what makes you come alive.
Favorite quote: “As Ho’onani called the sun, the moon, the stars, she held her place. Strong, sure, and steady.”
4. "How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion" by Ashima Shiraishi
Recommended age: 4-8 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a book about the power of not giving up.
In a nutshell: This extremely well-written autobiography about Ashima Shiraishi, a rock climbing wonder, is an inspiration for all. Through this book, Ashima talks about the problems that she solves in bouldering. With particularly difficult problems, she holds the problem in her head, maps it out, begins to climb and sometimes falls. But she views her challenges as an invitation to a new way to move. And so she tries again.
Why we love it: Yes, this book is about rock climbing… but it’s also about perseverance! We love the questions it poses: What do the falls in our life tell us? Can we move differently when confronted with a problem?
Favorite quote: "What I do is solve problems, which is to say, I make them mine."
5. "My Footprints" by Bao Phi
Recommended age: 6-8 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a wonderfully empowering book that counters bullying.
In a nutshell: As Thuy leaves school with kids laughing at her, she notices that her footprints leave tracks in the snow. As she makes her way home, she imagines herself as different animals, brave and strong enough to stand up to those who make fun of her. Momma Arti and Momma Ngoc join in and share their favorite mythical creatures. Together, they help Thuy reimagine herself as a creature that transcends, invites and includes. Together, they become a creature who rises above it all.
Why we love it: This book is not only a gracious acknowledgement of the pain of being made fun of, but also empowers intersectional identities in a creative way.
Favorite quote: “I wonder what creature we can pretend to be together, because we’re stronger together.”
6. "The Most Beautiful Thing" by Kao Kalia Yang
Recommended age: 5-9 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a moving book about grandparent love.
In a nutshell: Kalia’s love for her Grandma and her Grandma's love for her is huge. Grandma (with her single tooth in her mouth) tells stories about feeling the breath of a tiger, alongside other precious moments. The story of her grandchildren taking care of her is portrayed so tenderly.
Why we love it: The artwork is vibrant and bold and has a way of crowding into your heart as you read. The story-telling is compelling , heavy with both the weight of history and the weight of finding that glimmer in scarcity.
Favorite quote: "I squeezed her feet in my arms and pulled them close to my heart, a hug for the hard road she's walked to get to me."
7. "Laxmi’s Mooch" by Shelly Anand
Recommended age: 4-8 years
Read this if … you’re on the hunt for a joyful picture book to help your girls celebrate every part of themselves!
In a nutshell: Laxmi is surprised when a classmate innocently points out that the hair on her upper lip makes her the perfect cat during their recess game. She’s so embarrassed and dismayed that she hides her lip for the rest of the day and later is even more distraught to discover hair all over her body! When she expresses her concerns to her parents, they show her that many women in their family have a mooch (Hindi for “mustache”), and even famous women in history, like Frida Kahlo, have hair in places other than their head, too. Laxmi’s spirits rise, and when she returns to school the next day, she’s so proud of her mooch that she even gets classmates lining up to find their own fabulous mooches!
Why we love it: Laxmi takes something that girls often feel embarrassed about (body hair) and turns it into a celebration of herself and everyone around her.
Favorite quote: “But Mummy, I thought mooches were just for boys, like Papa.” “Nahi! You know, we come from a long line of women with moochay.”
8. "Maybe, Maybe, Marisol Rainey" by Erin Entrada Kelly
Recommended age: 7-10 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a delightful, relatable story about friendship and courage to fall in love with.
In a nutshell: Marisol Rainey wants to be brave. She wants to be able to face scary things and stand up to annoying classmates. And she especially wants to be brave enough to climb Peppina, the tree in her backyard, just like her mother used to climb kalachuchi trees in her native Philippines growing up. But every time she thinks about climbing Peppina, her heart goes tha-thump, and she just can’t summon the courage. But with the subtle, steady encouragement of her family and her best friend Jada, one day...she does!
Why we love it: Marisol is such a true-to-life character and her friendship with Jada is so charming. Anyone who has ever had trouble feeling brave will be empowered by Marisol.
Favorite quote: “That’s the thing about best friends. They don’t care about all the things you can’t do.”
9. "Measuring Up" by Lily Lamotte and Ann Xu
Recommended age: 8-12 years
Read this if … you’ve got readers who love MasterChef Jr. and graphic novels!
In a nutshell: The worst thing for 12-year-old Cici when she finds out she is leaving Taiwan for Seattle is saying goodbye to her beloved A-má. Seattle is OK, but she definitely doesn’t fit in with the American kids. All Cici really wants is to be able to celebrate A-má’s 70th birthday with her. So when she hears about a kid’s cooking competition, Cici concocts a brilliant plan — if she can win, she can use the prize money to buy a plane ticket for her A-má! With her incredible cooking skills, a dash of courage and a little help from master chef Julia Child, Cici might just find a way to make it happen.
Why we love it: A graphic novel is the perfect format for this sweet, funny story about friendship, family and the courage of conviction.
Favorite quote: “Julia says you can make anything. You just need Courage of Conviction. Courage of Conviction!”
10. "The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel" by E. L. Shen
Recommended age: 8-12 years
Read this if … you want a feel-good book about taking pride in who you are.
In a nutshell: Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen has her sights set on the Olympics. She’s a talented figure skater and she knows she can join the ranks of one of her idols, Mirai Nagasu. But this year, things aren’t going quite as planned. There’s a new skater who challenges her in more ways than one, and in school, she has to deal with a racist bully and changing friendships. Things begin to slip as she starts feeling the pressure on and off the rink. But with the support of her family and friends, Maxine finds a way to persevere.
Why we love it: This was a fun, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable story. We loved watching Maxine make a comeback!
Favorite quote: “[T]here is one thing I know… That no matter what, my daughter is a fighter. On and off the ice.”
11. "A Wish in the Dark" by Christina Soontornvat
Recommended age: 8-12 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a stunning, middle grade fantasy that also happens to explore important issues like class and privilege.
In a nutshell: Nok and Pong come from opposite ends of society. Pong was born in Namwon Prison and Nok is the privileged daughter of the prison warden. When Pong escapes from prison, he sets off towards the city of Chattana, where the magical lights controlled by the governor shine. But it’s not long before he realizes that the world outside can be as much of a prison as the one he left. Nok sets off in search of Pong, in the hope of proving her worth to her family, and what she finds challenges everything she’s grown up believing. This beautiful story weaves together Nok and Pong’s stories as they meet in ways neither of them expected. There’s a reason this one was named a Newberry Honor Book!
Why we love it: It’s a hopeful retelling of a classic set in a fantasy world inspired by Thai culture.
Favorite quote: “Nok had been grasping for the light her whole life. She thought that if she were perfect in every way...she’d be worthy enough for the light. But she’d gotten it all backward. So had the Governor.”
12. "Unsettled" by Reem Faruqi
Recommended age: 8-12 years
Read this if … you’re looking for a gorgeous, middle grade novel about finding your place in the world.
In a nutshell: When Nurah leaves her world in Karachi, Pakistan behind to move to Peachtree, Georgia, it’s even more of a challenge than she expected: she just doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t have the right clothes, food or skin color. But she finds refuge in swimming and a new friend, and little by little, Nurah finds the courage she needs to stand up for what’s right and find her own place.
Why we love it: Nurah is such a wonderful, layered character. She’s dealing with all of the challenges of being a regular middle schooler, while also navigating clashes with culture and family and religion, too. So many readers will relate to her struggles, mistakes and triumphs.
Favorite quote: “I can do this. One breath at a time.”
Shuli de la Fuente-Lau is the creator of the Instagram @AsianLitforKids, and the content lead at LittleFeminist.com – a monthly book club subscription and publishing house. She is an assistant principal at an elementary school during the day. Shuli is proudly a third culture kid who holds her Chinese Malaysian American identity with gratitude. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and two strong, spirited, and vibrant daughters.
Ciarra Chavarria runs the Instagram feed @girlsreadtheworld where she aims to spread girl power, one book at a time. She’s also a nonprofit attorney and lives in New Jersey with her husband and two fierce and fabulous little girls.