Books by Theme
A good book can open a child's eyes to new places, new customs. From family stories (Grandfather's Journey) to folktales (Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story) to feeling connected to a new culture (The Name Jar): discover the rich culture, humor, and traditions of Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Hawaii in this collection of picture books for kids 3-12 years old.
Our sister project, Colorín Colorado, celebrates family traditions and the rich diversity of Asian and Pacific Americans with books, activities, and a variety of resources and ideas for ELL educators. Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage >
A Single Shard
Tree Ear, a homeless orphan, longs to work as a potter, a respected but competitive employment — especially for a boy who lives under a bridge. Set in 12th century Korea, this Newbery Medal winning novel is as relevant as if it were taking place today. (2002 Newbery Medal Winner)
Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace and Other Tourist Attractions
Alvin Ho is back, and this time the young worrier is traveling to China with his family. Not only does Alvin worry, but his actions create worry for his dad and others. Readers, on the other hand, will find lots of humor and just may learn a bit about China, its greatest attractions and some Chinese history.
American Born Chinese
Three storylines — contemporary and mythic — intersect in this tale of a boy who is not comfortable with his culture or himself. This fresh, sometimes surprising, revealing novel is told in image and text. This graphic novel was the first of its format to win the Printz Award for best work of Young Adult Literature.
Apple Pie 4th of July
"No one wants to eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July," says a young girl to her parents who insist on keeping their Chinese restaurant open on Independence Day. An honest portrayal of the tug between traditions old and new, as well as what it really means to be American.
Chu-Mong, legendary leader of ancient Korea, suddenly appears — in the flesh! — in 12-year old Kevin's bedroom in his contemporary Dorcester, New York, home. Humor and tension build as ancient and modern come together in order to get Chu-Mong back to his own time and to take his rightful place in history.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
This sensitively crafted picture book offers a glimpse into the life and work of Japanese poet Kaneko (1903–30). Accompanied by colorful, soft illustrations, the first half recounts Kaneko's short life along with a selection of her poems that thematically complement the text. The second half is a larger (also illustrated) collection of her poems in English and Japanese.
Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic
While on a visit to her aunt and uncle in Illinois, the narrator and her family unexpectedly find a field of growing soybeans which begins a 40-year tradition. Based on the author's experiences, text and child-like illustrations reveal a caring, surprisingly modern family story from times past.
What's better than just eating a favorite dish? Anticipating it while preparing it, of course! Rhythmic, rhyming language and playful illustrations capture the joy of making this special Korean dish — and the joy of sharing it.
Country of origin: Korea
Boy of the Three Year Nap
Though Taro is known for his laziness, he is also clever and so finds a way to become wealthy. Realistic illustrations place Taro and his mother in a long ago Japan in this spritely retelling of a traditional trickster tale.
Cora Cooks Pancit
Cora wants to learn how to cook, but she's too young to do the jobs her older siblings do. One day, however, after the older kids have all gone out together, Cora asks her mother what they can cook together. To her surprise, Cora's mother asks her what she would like to make, and Cora chooses her favorite Filipino noodle dish, pancit. This family story about the importance of sharing tradition is brought to life by Kristi Valiant's charming illustrations and includes a bilingual glossary of Tagalog words.
When Vinson's grandfather visits from China, the boy has conflicting feelings about his grandfather's old ways. A visit to Chinatown to experience the lion dancers celebrate the Chinese New Year bring Ming Da (Vinson) and his grandfather closer. Watercolor and ink illustrations add power to the warm, plausible story.
Dia's Story Cloth: The Hmong People's Journey to Freedom
Through a quiet text and a series of stunning images created from embroidered cloth, the author relates her family's often harrowing journey from China to Laos to Thailand, ultimately settling in the United States. An afterward provides additional history and ethnology.
This remarkable story is based on the life of Billy Wong, a Chinese-American who travels to Europe, becomes fascinated with bullfighting, and decides to become a matador. Eventually, Billy's determination and recognition of what makes him unique helps him realize his dream. Luminous watercolors illustrate this sensitive picture book biography.
Froggy Goes to Hawaii
Once you've joined Froggy and his family on their Hawaiian vacation, find out more about what many have called a tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean. You can read about the geography of the Aloha State in Hawaii.
Country of origin: Hawaii, USA
Good Luck Gold and Other Poems
Easy-to-understand poems explore what it's like to grow up Asian in America. Readers will see themselves in the everyday activities of the poet who dispels typical notions of how Asians behave and how they excel. Perhaps, too, readers will realize the hurt that words can cause in several sophisticated and quite personal poems.
Say narrates the saga of his grandfather who as a young man travels to the United States in the early 20th century, marries, and returns to Japan. Watercolor portraits of people and places glimpse the contrast of cultures and parallel the lives of grandfather and grandson. It could lead to a discovery of family histories. Country of origin: Japan
Henry's First Moon Birthday
Jen helps her Chinese-American family get ready for the traditional celebration of her brother Henry’s one-month birthday. Lively, stylized illustrations move the story at a quick pace to its satisfying conclusion.
How My Parents Learned to Eat
When an American sailor meets a Japanese woman, they both try in secret to learn the other's way of eating. Their courtship and growing love culminates in marriage. This realistic family story explores cultural similarities and differences and is told with humor and honesty by the couple's daughter.
Hush! A Thai Lullaby
A loving mother asks animals from a water buffalo to a lizard to "hush" so her baby can sleep. Once the noises stop, the mother herself sleeps — and the baby is now awake! Textured illustrations evoke the Thai setting and convey the understated humor of this unique bedtime book.
An elderly kamishibai man travels the route on which he once told stories using his paper theater. Though the city is now crowded and noisy, the children — now grown — remember and stop once more. A note about kamishibai and stunning illustrations create broad reader appeal.
Traditional wooden Kokeshi dolls inspired this introduction to Japanese words and culture while presenting a participatory book with flaps to lift, fold-outs and more.
The young narrator describes how she and her family each contribute to a handsome kite which they then enjoy flying. Signature illustrations show traditional Chinese kite designs combined with an author's note about kite history. The result is the celebration of an ebullient family tradition that readers may want to take up themselves!
Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel / Si Lakas at ang Makibaka Hotel
This engaging story of how one community comes together to save their home is told in English and in Tagalog. Bright illustrations help move the story of successful resistance along while conveying a bit of Filipino history and culture.
Country of origin: Philippines
Lalani of the Distant Sea
Lalani and her mother live on Sanlagita, an island under constant threat from the mountain Isa. Lalani’s quest begins when her mother falls gravely ill. Steeped in Filipino lore, this is a riveting fantasy, enhanced by evocative illustrations in a handsome format. Lalani confronts and overcomes all odds for a satisfying conclusion.
Twelve-year old Mai is reluctant to travel with her grandmother from California to Vietnam to learn more about her roots and to help Ba, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai struggles to understand the language and culture of her family's heritage in this poignant, often funny novel of being part of two cultures.
My Name Is Yoon
Yoon narrates the difficulty she experiences when her family moves to the United States from Korea. Her struggle with the transition focuses on the moment when she must learn to write her name in English rather than in Korean, and she remains resistant to learning a new language. Her imaginative voice is child-like and plausible, augmented by inventive illustrations.
New Clothes for New Year's Day
A little girl gets ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year in this gentle and stunningly illustrated book first published in South Korea. Excitement mounts as she details how she dresses for this engaging celebration with universal appeal.
Red Kite, Blue Kite
Tai Shan and his father fly kites from "the tippy-top of our triangle roof" where they are free like the kites. Tai Shan's is small, nimble, and red while Baba's is a strong, large blue kite. The widow and his son are separated during China's Cultural Revolution though are ultimately reunited. A difficult period is touchingly presented while remaining child-friendly.
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee
The true story of one of only two Chinese-American women to fly for the U.S. Air Force during World War II, is told as though by Maggie Gee herself. Her dream of flying became reality because of a dream and determination. An author's note provides a short glimpse into where and what the actual Maggie Gee does today as well as period photographs.
Tales Told in Tents: Stories from Central Asia
Where do you find needles? All over the world, of course! Readers will recognize many things in these stories from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian countries where stories, riddles, and more are told at mealtimes to feed the soul as well as the body. As with many folktales, readers recognize what they share with people in another part of the world while celebrating what makes them unique.
Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
A family shares a nighttime picnic with traditional mooncakes and other foods to honor the moon. Each silently shares a wish that is sent to the moon. The quiet celebration is presented through Lin’s signature illustrations and simple text. An endnote provides a bit more information about the festival.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
In this humorous and heartfelt story about a split cultural identity, nothing goes according to plan for sixth-grader Lucy Wu. She's ready to rule the school, go out for captain of the basketball team, and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister … until she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit and will be staying in Lucy's room. Lucy discovers that life often reveals silver linings in the most unexpected of clouds.
The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale
Have you wondered why frogs croak on the edge of streams? It all started long ago with two disobedient frog brothers who decided to obey their long-suffering mother only after her death. Humor and grimness combine for a memorable Korean pourquoi tale.
Country of origin: Korea
The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China
With war approaching, Baba (the author's father) builds a sturdy home for his family in Shanghai. The family, their activities, and house unfold in stunning, varied art and lyrical language in an expansive format to reveal a glimpse of an historical time through the lens of one family.
The Land of Forgotten Girls
Soledad and Ming have migrated to Louisiana from the Philippines. Their father has returned to their homeland leaving the girls with Vea, the girls’ unhappy, mean-spirited stepmother. As their world expands and fact and fantasy collide, the real world, friendships, and understanding also expand.
The Seven Chinese Sisters
Sisters each use their special talent while working together to save the sister who was snatched by a not-too-scary dragon. Uncluttered illustrations add detail to the crisply told original tale likely inspired by a Chinese folktale.
Country of origin: China
The Trip Back Home
Based on the author's experience, a child visits the village in Korea where her mother lived before immigrating to America. The simplicity of the text provides rich details of everyday life in the small Korean village, enhanced by realistic illustrations.
The Ugly Vegetables
In a neighborhood of flower gardens, a Chinese-American girl and her mother plant what the child considers to be ugly vegetables. The ugly vegetables, however, become attractive and help build community when made into a delicious soup! A recipe is included.
This Next New Year
Janet Wong shares a young boy's hopes and dreams for the New Year — he has had so much bad luck in the past year, but he is certain that this year will be much luckier! A heartwarming and honest portrayal of what the chance to start over means for all of us. An author's note provides insight into her background and this festive occasion.
Toad Is the Uncle of Heaven: A Vietnamese Folktale
The small toad, with the help of other animals, gets the attention of the Emperor of Heaven to end Earth's drought before all is destroyed. There is humor in this colorfully illustrated, respectful retelling of a traditional folktale.
Country of origin: Vietnam
Tuko and the Birds: A Tale from the Philippines
Birds sing the people of Maynilad on the Philippine island of Luzon to sleep at night — until Tuko the haughty gecko prevents the birds from doing their job. Repetition and onomatopoeic animal sounds make this a lively, memorable folktale to share aloud. Tagalog is sprinkled throughout and is included in a glossary.
Country of origin: Philippines
Lyrical text and rich collage illustrations combine to tell the story of a brown cat named Wabi Sabi as he discovers the meaning of his name. As Wabi Sabi's journey unfolds so, too, does the reader's understanding of Japanese culture and sensibility.
Country of origin: Japan
What Will You Be, Sara Mee?
On Sara Mee's first birthday, her family made sure to have a tol, a celebration based in an ancient custom that includes guests, special foods, and gifts for the child that will predict what the child will be when he or she grows up. Realistic illustrations capture the warmth of Sara Mee's family, her birthday festivity, and the warm relationship shared with her older brother. An author's note and glossary round out this attractive book
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China
Based on an ancient Chinese story (which pre-dates European versions), a girl overcomes her wicked stepmother to marry the prince. Jewel-like illustrations by Caldecott medalist Ed Young bring this variation of the classic tale to life.
Country of origin: China
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