I have a distinct memory of being in fifth grade and reading a book unlike any other I’d read before. It was a short story about a young Chinese immigrant who identified herself as Shirley Temple Wong. She didn’t understand the point of the pledge of allegiance, got into fights with bullies on the playground and overcame it all thanks to her one good friend, her family, and her hero, baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
Until then, I’d never read a story with an Asian American main character that discussed immigration, discrimination and Chinese culture.
I was enamored with the story, “In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson,” and I wanted more. Unfortunately, it was tough to find another story about Asian kids and cultures in my school library. Nearly 20 years later, only 7% of kids books published in 2016 featured Asian American characters, according to the Children’s Cooperative Book Center.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and it’s the perfect time to discover some new stories about Asian people, places, food and culture.
Whether your child is into looking at pretty pictures or has already advanced to small chapter books, these reads are sure to get them excited and curious about a world beyond their own —or reassure them that there are stories out there about kids with struggles just like theirs.
“In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson” by Bette Bao Lord (ages 10 and up)
My childhood favorite was published in 1984, but the lessons still resonate today. “In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson” will make a great first chapter book for any avid young reader eager for a story about immigrant culture, tolerance and overcoming adversity.
“Apple Pie 4th of July” by Janet S. Wong and Margaret Chodos-Irvine (ages 5 and up)
This book will leave readers hungry for more stories of good food and family fun. The narrator of this colorful kid’s book just wants to eat apple pie on the Fourth of July. Instead, her Chinese parents insist on preparing and serving noodles and pork while everyone around her is eating ice cream. But is it all really as unpatriotic as she thinks?
“The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi (ages 10 and up)
Unhei is sick and tired of people pronouncing her Korean name incorrectly. Why does she have to have that name anyway? What would happen if she decided to change her name? In this book, young readers will learn the answers to these questions and discover that being different can be a good thing.
“Pepper Zhang: Artist Extraordinaire!” by Jerry Zhang (ages 5 and up)
When Jerry Zhang’s daughter told him she didn’t want to be Chinese, he created a Chinese hero she could look up to. Not every book about Asian American heritage has to be about the struggle of fitting in. “Pepper Zhang” is a colorful read that proves Asian stories can be silly, fun, entertaining and extraordinary.
“Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji” by F. Zia (ages 5 and up)
Aneel’s grandfather coming to visit can only mean two things: good food and good stories. Beautifully illustrated and even more beautifully written, “Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji” will open up your kid’s imagination and get them craving more tales of Indian food and adventure.
“The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu” by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (ages 10 and up)
Lucy Wu thought she was going to have the perfect sixth-grade year, but she was sadly mistaken. Her dreams of becoming a basketball star, an interior designer and of finally getting her own room are shattered when her great aunt Yi Po comes for an extended stay. But Lucy eventually learns that even the darkest clouds have silver linings. Preteen and advanced young readers will be hooked on this children’s book about bullying, family and friendship.
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