Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Recommendations for Kids by the Teen Reading Ambassadors

By Rachel Roseberry, Manager, Young Adult Literacy Programs
May 19, 2021

Join the Library in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month throughout May. 

NYPL’s Teen Reading Ambassadors program brings together 10th–12th grade students from across New York City to learn about the Library and help further its mission to inspire lifelong learning in others, particularly young children. Below are book recommendations for kids ages 5-12 written by Ambassadors in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. These books showcase the dazzling breadth of AAPI identities. Some illuminate family histories, others explore the challenges of conflicting cultures, while still others highlight what Taiwanese American author and illustrator Grace Lin has called “real stories of Asians who share our common thread of humanity.” That these books were selected by high-schoolers (recently kids themselves!) demonstrates their ability to engage, entertain, and comfort our youngest readers.

Camp Tiger written by Susan Choi and illustrated by John Rocco

Ages 5-8Recommended by Chiamaka O. 

In the book Camp Tiger, Susan Choi tells the story of a young child who goes on his yearly camping trip with his family. However, this trip is not like any of the other camping trips from the years before. When he returns home the boy will have to begin the first grade! Once the family arrives at the campsite in the woods, the boy meets a friendly talking tiger who he quickly bonds with. The tiger follows the family around during their visit, and is a helpful guide to the boy by distracting him from his fears about entering a new grade.

Paired with the creative drawings by John Rocco, the book follows the boy and the tiger throughout their camping trip as they fish and complete other activities together. The pages of the book come alive with color and beauty. From deep dark ponds to bright blue skies, Rocco does a wonderful job of illustrating nature in a magical way. Furthermore, Choi perfectly captures the scary feeling of growing up and making big changes. It isn’t easy switching from one grade level to the next, and making changes like these often requires the help of a friend or an animal companion. 

Lift written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat

Ages 5-8Recommended by Marian C.

Ever find yourself racing to push the elevator button? What if that elevator could lift you to places beyond your wildest dreams? Lift, by Minh Lê, tells the story of a young girl named Iris—the family’s designated elevator button-pusher—as her world is flipped upside-down by a rivalrous family member. Annoyed that her role is stolen away, an irritated Iris discovers a magical elevator button that opens portals to wondrous new worlds. But Iris feels off. What is holding her back? 

Brought to life by Dan Santat’s beautifully expressive illustrations, Lift reminds us that there is magic in imagination, exploration, and a little bit of sibling love. Lê’s whimsical work, a New York Public Library Best Book for Kids in 2020, will lift your spirits with the simple push of a button. 

Sugar in Milk written by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Khoa Le

Ages 5-8Recommended by Anna P.

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar tells the story of a young immigrant girl new to the United States. After her recent arrival and moving in with her aunt and uncle, she is overcome with feelings of loneliness and homesickness, deeply missing her friends and the sticky baklava back in India. Her aunt, worried by her sorrow, takes her on a walk one day to share with her an ancient Indian legend about Persian refugees thousands of years ago. As her aunt finishes telling her this inspirational tale, the young girl develops a fresh outlook on her new, American life: that although her new home is strange and unfamiliar, there is a place for her somewhere. Through its inspiring tone and meticulous illustration, Sugar in Milk tells the relatable story of a young immigrant's struggle with acclimation and feeling accepted. Every reader will be enlightened with the knowledge and message to young immigrants that “just like sugar in milk, we will sweeten your lives with our presence.” 

Stargazing written and illustrated by Jen Wang

Ages 8-12Recommended by Muna M.

Growing up is hard. Whether you’re like Moon, loud and confident, or like Christine, quiet, and thoughtful, the two main characters of Stargazing by Jen Wang know that the road to finding yourself isn’t always easy. The graphic novel begins when Moon and her mother move into the house at the bottom of Christine’s yard. Moon is unlike anyone Christine has ever met, and she is quickly drawn into her colorful world, filled with sparkly nailpolish, K-pop singers with killer dance moves, and a secret no one else knows—Moon can see angels! The two quickly become best friends, but when Moon and Christine get into a fight and Moon’s magical visions start to fall apart, they have to figure out how to go on with their lives now that everything in them has changed. Wang’s expression-filled pages will pull you in, but you’ll stay to see how Moon and Christine fix their friendship, and find out if, despite their struggles, they’re able to showcase the dance moves they’ve been learning in the school talent show! 

Recommended by Sherry W.

Stargazing is a graphic novel about two Chinese-American girls, Christine and Moon. Christine is hesitant to interact with Moon at first due to the bad rumors surrounding her. However, when Moon moves next door, Christine gets to know her better. The two become friends almost immediately and bond, despite their many differences. Moon is artistic and loud, whereas Christine is studious and unconfident, but together the girls form a beautiful friendship. Wang's stunning artwork takes you on these two best friends' journey through things like K-pop, Chinese culture, and drama. 

A Different Pond written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui

Ages 5-8Recommended by Marian C.

Inspired by author Bao Phi’s own experiences as a child from a refugee family, A Different Pond follows a young boy and his father on their reflective journey down to the pond. Stretching across beautifully expansive and mellow double-page spreads, the illustrations and poetic writing immerse readers in this powerfully poignant tale of a father-son relationship and post-Vietnam War struggles in America. While fishing for crappies at the pond past the clear “No Trespassing” sign, the boy’s hardworking father reminisces about the life he once had; the life where he once fished with his brother at a different pond in Vietnam, across the vast Pacific Ocean. Later, as the colors warm across the page and the boy’s parents both return from a long day of hard work, the family celebrates the catch with a delicious dinner. At night, the boy wonders about the faraway pond, illuminating the meaningful message about the new beginnings, sacrifices, and forever-unbreakable bonds that characterize the immigrant experience. 

Amina’s Voice/آمنہ کی آواز written by Hena Khan/حنا خان

Due to the messages/themes and wording, this book would be best for ages 10 and up. Recommended by Ibnath O. 

Ever feel like you're all alone with your voice and opinions? Then Amina's Voice will give you some comfort and understanding. Amina, a Pakistani-American tween who just started middle school goes through many conflicts about her identity. To be a girl, a Muslim, a South Asian and to be herself all at once is a difficult task. Should she listen to the rules of her identity or her own voice? It's double the struggle when her best friend Soojin, the only other Asian student, is thinking of changing her name to a white name. Now she has to be the only one that's 'different'. What should Amina do? Conform to her surroundings or find herself? 

This is an extremely relatable story for South Asian and East Asian kids, especially tweens/teens about the things they go through in school and their community due to parts of their identity. It shows character development and strength in many forms. The realistic portrayal of friendship also calls forth a variety of emotions. This story will give children hope and a sense of confidence to simply be themselves. 

The Serpent’s Secret written by Sayantani DasGupta 

Ages 8-12  Recommended by Sarnale R. 

The amount of South Asian representation in literature is very limited, but that is why it's important to gather a collection of Asian represent books for young kids. One amazing book for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta. This novel is fantasy, fiction, and adventure which will appeal to many types of kids. This novel has a similar adventure and fiction atmosphere to The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The Serpent’s Secret has received numerous awards such as Bank Street Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Best Middle Grade Novel of the 21st Century, and an EB White Read Aloud Honor Book. 

The main character is a powerful, independent, Desi (South Asian) girl. Not only is the cover page beautiful and bright, so is the story. Kiranmala starts off as a normal sixth-grader in New Jersey. Then her life is turned upside down when her parents are sent to another dimension and a killer rakkhosh demon appears in her home. She realizes the fantasy stories her parents used to tell her as a child are becoming reality. She must battle and outsmart her many enemies, including demons, the Serpent King, and the Rakkhoshi Queen. Her mission is to save her parents and her dimension. Can she succeed? 

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners written by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho

Ages 5-8Recommended by Lisa W.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is a celebration of diversity, told through this poetically written picture book about a young Asian girl and the women in her life. She realizes that her eyes are different from the other kids. However, she sees herself in her Mama, Amah, and Mei Mei, and that’s all that matters. She sees beauty within these women that surround her, which reflects onto how she views and loves herself. This book is a story of confidence no matter who you are and what you look like. Along with captivating illustrations, Eyes That Kiss in the Corners shares messages of self empowerment, individuality, and the beauty of intergenerational relationships for all readers.  

We Belong written by Cookie Hiponia Everman and illustrated by Abigail Dela Cruz

Ages 8-12Recommended by Tara L.

Want to hear a bedtime story? Then We Belong is the perfect tale for you. Told through the tender and resilient voice of a mother, this novel-in-verse intertwines an immigrant story with Philippine folklore and the Tagalog language. It is about a girl who is fleeing from her homeland and searching for a new place to belong, and it is also about Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god, who is fighting for acceptance amongst the moon and the stars. As you read, you will become immersed in the imagery of motherhood, sisterhood, nature, and magic until you too sing the songs in your heart, the songs of love.