Tragically, voices of Asian Americans have not always been at the forefront of history, even though they have always been a great part of global history. As a national early literacy nonprofit, Reading Partners has created a children’s book list to celebrate and highlight Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ stories and traditions. The list provides a productive way for families to create a dialogue around celebrating AAPI experiences and culture amid recent hate crimes.
Reading Partners challenges parents to read one of these books with their children to create a dialogue celebrating diversity and Asian American history. (Book titles with the asterisk are in the Reading Partners curriculum.)
- Johannah: A Hmong Cinderella Story*: A reimagined Cinderella story that takes readers to the remote mountains of Southeast Asia and into a traditional home of the Laotian Hmong. This story is part of the Cinderella’s from around the world collection from Lee & Low Books.
- The Crane Girl*: While gathering firewood, Yasuhiro comes upon an injured crane hidden in the snow. He rescues and comforts the bird, then watches as it flies away over the wintry hills. The next night, a mysterious young girl arrives at Yasuhiro’s home seeking shelter from the cold. The boy and his father welcome the girl, named Hiroko, to stay with them. But when Hiroko notices that Yasuhiro’s father is struggling to earn money, she offers to weave silk for him to sell. After the fabric fetches a good price, the boy’s father becomes impatient for more silk, and his greed has a life-changing effect on them all.
- Cora Cooks Pancit*: Cora loves to be in the kitchen with her mama though the “grown-up jobs” always go to her older siblings. When they are out one day, she gets to help her mom with all the jobs she always wanted to do. She imagines cooking all of her favorite Filipino foods before they finally decide to cook the noodle dish pancit. This book includes a recipe for readers and caregivers to cook together after reading.
- Barbed Wire Baseball*: A true story set in a Japanese-American internment camp in World War II. As a young boy, Kenichi Zenimura (Zeni) wanted to be a baseball player, even though everyone told him he was too small. He grew up to become a successful athlete, playing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Zeni and his family were sent to one of several internment camps established in the U.S. for people of Japanese ancestry. Zeni brought the game of baseball to the camp, along with a sense of hope, and became known as the “Father of Japanese-American Baseball.”
- I Hate English*: MeiMei’s family has immigrated from Hong Kong to New York City and MeiMei learns to balance life in school speaking English with life at home speaking Cantonese in her community. In Cantonese, MeiMei feels confident, smart, and relaxed. When reading English, she is scared, feels she doesn’t know anything and finds it difficult to communicate. MeiMei begins to get help from those in her immigrant community who help her understand the value of being bilingual while acknowledging her fears and challenges.
- Song for Cambodia*: When Arn was a young boy in Cambodia, his days were filled with love, laughter, and the sweet sounds of music. That all changed suddenly in 1975 when Arn’s village was invaded by Khmer Rouge soldiers and his family was torn apart. Nine-year-old Arn was taken to a children’s work camp, where he labored long hours in the rice fields under the glaring eyes of threatening soldiers. Overworked, underfed, and in constant fear for his life, Arn had to find a way to survive. When guards asked for volunteers to play music one day, Arn bravely raised his hand—taking a chance that would change the course of his life.
- Himalaya*: High in the Himalaya, Yangshi’s mother is making a rice drink to trade at the market. For Sherpas and Tibetans, trading is a means of sharing their crops and goods with others who live throughout the mountain chain. Yanghsi’s family also takes some of the rice drink to the monastery as a gift for the monks. Sherpas and Tibetans live simply, in harmony with the world around them. Yangshi’s people believe life is an endless circle that goes around and around, as symbolized by the prayer wheel she spins at the monastery.
- The Wishing Tree*: Every Lunar New Year, Ming and his grandmother visited the Wishing Tree. Its branches were covered with wishes, each written on red and yellow paper fluttering in the breeze, secured by the weight of an orange. Grandmother warned him to wish carefully, and sure enough, Ming’s wishes always seemed to come true. One year Ming made the most important wish of his life—the tree let him down.
- Sumo Joe: On Saturday mornings, Sumo Joe is a gentle big brother to his little sister. But on Saturday afternoons, he and his friends are sumo wrestlers! They tie on makeshift mawashi belts, practice drills like teppo, and compete in their homemade dohyo ring. They even observe sumo’s ultimate rule: no girls allowed! But when Sumo Joe’s little sister wants to join in the fun, Sumo Joe is torn between the two things he’s best at: sumo, and being a big brother.
- Duck for Turkey Day*: Tuyet is excited for the Thanksgiving holiday and a break from school. As her family prepares, she is worried that they are doing Thanksgiving wrong because they won’t be having turkey or the other foods her teacher talked about. Tuyet is surprised after the vacation to learn that her classmates all had different traditions and food for the holiday and learns the one thing they all had in common was time with family.
- A Different Pond: A graphic novel that tells an honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son, and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Caldecott Honor Book.
- Ruby’s Wish*: Ruby is a young girl living in a Houtong in old China. When she is young she attends classes and learns. As she grows older, the boys in her family continue going to classes and learn in many subjects while girls prepare to be wives and mothers. Ruby has one wish, to continue to go to school and learn like her brothers and cousins. Full of ambition, Ruby works towards and is successful in pursuing her education and eventually attending university.
- Juna’s Jar: Juna and her best friend, Hector, have many adventures together, and they love to collect things in empty kimchi jars. Then one day, Hector moves away without having a chance to say good-bye. Juna is heartbroken and left to wonder who will go on adventures with her. Determined to find Hector, Juna turns to her special kimchi jar for help each night. She plunges into the depths of the ocean, swings on vines through the jungle, and flies through the night sky in search of her friend. What Juna learns is that adventure — and new friends — can be found in the most unexpected places.
Reading Partners is a New York Times-endorsed organization that mobilizes volunteer tutors across the country to work one-on-one with awe-inspiring students because they believe in educational equity and that early literacy is the key to success in school and beyond. Reading Partners believes in equity for all and stands with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, rebuking the recent wave of violence and hostility towards them in America.