Reading Stories That Define #OwnVoices: 20 Asian Pacific American Picture Books and Children's Comics

By Michelle Lee, Young Adult Librarian
June 3, 2019
Riverside Library

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (#APAHM) just drew to a close, but May is not—and should not be—the only month to read books featuring Asian Pacific American protagonists.

This recommended reading list includes classic and recent picture books, and comics created mostly by Asian Pacific American authors and illustrators. These selections are great for young readers ranging from babies and toddlers to elementary school students. (Side note: The hashtag #ownvoices was started on Twitter in 2015 by young adult writer Corinne Duyvus, using the hashtag for children's literature suggestions featuring diverse characters, written by authors of that same background). 

Enjoy this list of stories about families, fantasy adventures, food, science and more.   

Picture Books

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin

Dim Sum for Everyone! book cover

Explore delicious dim sum dishes in this colorful little book. Lin includes a short explanation of yum cha / tea drinking at the end for adults and those who are not familiar with the tradition.

 

Bee-bim Bop!by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

Bee-bim Bop! book cover

Through fun, rhyming sing-song verse, a little girl and her mother go shopping and prepare the traditional Korean rice dish bee-bim bop / bibimbap, step-by-step, for the whole family to savor and share.

 

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji by F. Zia, art by Ken Min

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji book cover

Aneel loves listening to his Dada-Ji’s (Grandfather’s) stories about his youthful adventures in a small Indian village. The secret to Dada-Ji’s strength is eating roti, and this picture book recounts the exploits of both grandfather and grandson as they make bread together.

 

All The Things I Love About You by LeUyen Pham

All the Things I Love About You book cover

Author and illustrator Pham lists all the reasons she loves her son as he grows up. Her drawings adorably portray important milestones familiar to many families, whether the little boy is learning the alphabet, being hyperactive during meal times, or just reaching in for a hug.

 

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

The Ugly Vegetables book cover

A young girl is unhappy that her mother is growing "ugly" Chinese greens and gourds in their garden, as opposed to the flowers seen in the rest of the neighborhood, until she discovers the benefits of having—and sharing—vegetables.

 

Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino, Japanese translation by Akiko Hisa

Sora and the Cloud book cover

Sora, a little boy who loves to climb things, explores the heights of San Francisco with the help of a new friend, Cloud. This charming bilingual book shows the city through a young child’s eyes and incorporates several visual allusions to Japanese culture.

 

Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

Juna's Jar book cover

Juna and her best friend, Hector, love to explore the neighborhood park and fill an empty kimchi jar with rocks and bugs. When Hector suddenly moves away without saying goodbye, Juna’s brother, Minho, fills the jar with little gifts to cheer his sister up. At night, these presents lead Juna to new, surprising discoveries about the world and friendship.

 

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

A Different Pond book cover

In this semi-biographical tale, a young boy’s pre-dawn fishing trip to a Minneapolis pond takes a poignant turn when his father tells him stories about life in Vietnam. This tale is about more than just fish—it paints a loving portrait of a refugee family struggling and surviving in their new home.

 

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Under My Hijab book cover

A young Muslim girl closely observes how the six role models in her life (her mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin, and troop leader) choose to wear hijabs (religious hair coverings) in public, and how they wear their hair in private. Khan’s rhyming couplets and Jaleel’s bright drawings provides wonderful slice-of-life scenes. This picture book illuminates our narrator’s journey as she considers her own future aspirations and how she would like to wear a hijab.  

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth book cover

Pixar animator Patel and book editor Haynes create a vivid, whimsical, modern spin on the creation of the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu sacred text. In this version, the young elephant-head Ganesha and his friend, Mr. Mouse, discover how an accident can turn into an epic learning opportunity.

 

My Dadima Wears a Sari by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi

My Dadima Wears a Sari book cover

Rupa discovers the beauty, history and creative uses for a sari when she asks her wise Dadima (Grandmother) why she wears the traditional dress every day even though their family lives in America. Rupa and her sister, Neha, come to treasure the colorful garments as their Dadima shares her stories.

 

My Chinatown: A Year in Poems by Kam Mak

A Year in Poems book cover

A young boy from Hong Kong enjoys the sights, foods, and sounds of his new neighborhood, Manhattan’s Chinatown, over the course of a year. Readers follow the narrator around as he observes his neighbors and enjoys simple pleasures, like playing a game of Chinese chess with his sister and window-shopping for a kite.
 

Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrations by Dan Santat

Drawn Together book cover

A young boy’s day with his grandfather instantly becomes more vibrant when they start sketching together. Drawings of wizards, heroes, and dragons help bridge the language gap between English and Thai, and make their family time together infinitely more meaningful.

 

The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say

The Favorite Daughter book cover

Biracial Yuriko is teased in her elementary school for her Japanese-American heritage and considers changing her name and personality, until her father takes her on a special trip. Say’s skillful use of watercolors, colored inks, and photographs tell this loving semi-biographical tale of the bond between a father and daughter.

Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel by Anthony Robles, illustrated by Carl Angel

Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel book cover

Lakas, a young Filipino-American boy, becomes a community protestor when he realizes that several of his neighbors will be evicted from the rundown San Francisco hotel they call home. Readers will easily understand the main message of this bilingual English and Tagalog book: stand up and speak out for what is right.
 

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee

Baseball Saved Us book cover

A young Japanese-American boy and his family struggle to stay optimistic when they are forced to live under harsh, desolate conditions in an Idaho internment camp during World War II. Baseball becomes more than just a pastime for everyone at the internment camp, and the young narrator shows how the sport holds a greater purpose for him in life when facing adversity, injustice, and racism.
 

Bright Sky, Starry City by Uma Krishaswami, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

Bright Sky, Starry City book cover

Amateur astronomer Phoebe draws the solar system in colorful chalk on the sidewalk outside her father’s store and helps set up telescopes to see the planets and stars once night falls. The big question is: will the father and daughter be able to see anything through the bright city lights and impending rain? City dwellers and space fans can enjoy this story, which also includes additional information about the night sky and light pollution.

 

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Redwoods book cover

A New York City subway-riding boy magically travels to the California redwood forests when he picks up and reads an abandoned book. Nature-lovers will learn a plethora of facts about these unique, hardy trees and the vast network of flora and fauna redwoods support. The book’s lush illustrations, and unique story blending fantasy with nonfiction, will transport all readers.

 

Children’s Comics and Graphic Novels

The Shark King: A Toon Book by R. Kikuo Johnson

The Shark King book cover

In this retelling of a Hawaiian folktale, a young boy, Nanaue, the son of the Shark King Kamohoalii and human mother Kalei, struggles to balance his adventurous, mischievous spirit with keeping his true identity a secret from the people living in a nearby fishing village.  

 

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim

Where's Halmoni? book cover

Noona and Jin’s Halmoni (Grandmother) is missing, and the brother and sister travel to a mystical land filled with magical creatures to find her. Kim skillfully weaves Korean folktale characters with references to modern life for a charming, humorous adventure.