“Whether reading about Hawaiian traditions in Ohana Means Family or about the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother in Grandmother’s Visit, my students will not only be exposed to cultures they may not be familiar with, but also discover that there are many things we all have in common.”—Mrs. Lew, Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month With Diverse Books!
There is a magic that happens when students read books with diverse characters and by diverse authors; they don’t just step into the story, they become immersed in the lives, loves, and life lessons of the characters. Check out these top picks from DonorsChoose teachers and staff to add to your students’ (or your own!) reading list this Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
Follow Unhei as she sets out on her first day at a new school. Any student (or even adult) can relate to the very specific brand of nerves that comes with starting a new school: Will I fit in? Will the other kids like me? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei worries that her name will make her stand out in a classroom of American kids. This book helps to start a conversation about how it feels to be different and the ways in which we can respond when we notice that someone else is different to us.
Key themes: Difference, identity, fitting in
Under My Hijab, by Hena Khan
In this lyrical story, Pakistani-American author Henna Khan showcases and celebrates the lives and diversity of Muslim American women. With catchy rhymes and beautiful images, Under My Hijab effortlessly answers questions that non-Muslim readers might have about the hijab, while giving young Muslim girls a positive message about their decision to wear a hijab when they grow up.
Key themes: Self-expression, breaking down stereotypes
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, by Joanna Ho
As a young girl looks at her classmates’ “big eyes” with “lashes like lace trim on ballgowns”, she notices that our physical differences make us all unique and special. Her own eyes, “glow like warm tea” and “kiss in the corners” just like her mother’s and grandmother’s. With beautiful images and poetry, this book is a heartwarming mix of self-love and empowerment.
Key themes: Self-love, confidence, family and tradition
Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, by Eva Chen
Juno is late for school, but first she needs to find her favorite running-hopping-skipping-muddy-puddle-jumping shoes! When writing this fantastical and magical story of shoes, Eva Chen was very aware that kids need to see themselves in books: “I think representation and diversity begins at a very young age. You might not be conscious of it completely until you see more people that look like you. When my daughter first saw the book, she kept asking me, ‘Is that me, Mommy? Is that me?’ Juno is meant to be mixed race so it was definitely inspired by my daughter all around.”
Key themes: Self-esteem, girl power, female role models
Middle School Books
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhhà Lai
Based on the author’s experiences, this free verse novel tells the story of ten-year-old Hà as she and her family flee South Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Speaking no English, Hà and her family leave their missing father and arrive in Alabama where they are met with racism and bullying. This book shows the love, compassion and determination that it takes to build a new home.
Key themes: Hope, determination, compassion
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
In this New York Times bestselling graphic novel, Gene Luen Yang weaves the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, known as Sun Wukong, into the stories of Jin Wang, Danny, and Chin-Kee. As these boys navigate growing up in America whilst having Chinese ancestry, they deal with stereotypes, isolation, and what it means to straddle two cultures at once. This graphic novel has funny moments, but allows kids to understand the pain that comes with being ostracized and misunderstood.
Key themes: Racism, identity, pride
Front Desk, By Kelly Yang
Ten-year-old Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Loosely based on Kelly Yang’s life, this book showcases the family, friendships, and perseverance that help immigrant families face the struggles and hardships that often come their way. As a winner of the 2019 Asian / Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, this book mirrors the ups and downs of living as an immigrant kid in America.
Key themes: Perseverance, racism, social justice
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
This National Book Award finalist was written by Korean-American author, Min Jin Lee. It tells the story of Sunja, a Korean teenager who falls for a wealthy stranger and travels to Japan to create a new life for herself. The story unfolds during the Japanese occupation of Korea and World War II and shows the diverse cultures and histories that make up the term “Asian”.
Key themes: Love, sacrifice, ambition, loyalty
High School Books
The Sympathizer: A Novel, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This Pulitzer-Prize winning novel tells the story of an American educated Franco-Vietnamese communist spy in the South Vietnamese intelligence department. Our team member who recommended this book said it was “the first book that made me feel like the narrator understands how Americans in the USA view the Asian diaspora”. This book allows the reader to better understand the public and private legacies of the Vietnam War.
Key themes: Love, betrayal, friendship
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
This staff favorite follows four Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters, exploring their complex relationships and the way that cultural differences can lead to a lack of understanding. This novel expands world views, while enriching and complicating the notions of self and other.
Key themes: Friendship among women, relationships between mothers and daughters, immigrant identity
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
This Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories was one of our staff members’ favorites during high school. For anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, these stories about Indian immigrants and their quest for love beyond the barriers of geography and generations will allow you to see their flaws and their redeeming humanity, and will make you feel like you are not alone.
Key themes: Migration, belonging, family, identity
Help celebrate AAPI Heritage Month by supporting some inspiring classroom projects curated by our employee resource group, RAD (Representing Asians at DonorsChoose).