Books to Celebrate AAPI Culture in the Classroom

May 13, 2021

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"When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part."

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

As we celebrate AAPI culture this month, we want to share with you books for your classroom that are representative of the multitude of Asian American Pacific Islander culture. Below are books for PreK-12 classrooms. We hope you find ones to add to your library. 

High School Books
 
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay 
 
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
 
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.
 
As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.
 
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
 
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
 
Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
 
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
 
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
 
Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faloodeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.
 
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
 
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
 
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
 
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, "Why not?"
 
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.
 
Middle School Books
 
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
 
This graphic novel joins three seemingly unrelated characters as the story weaves them all together. It offers older readers a look at stereotypes as it then breaks them down.
 
Count Me In, by Varsha Bajaj
 
Karina Chopra, her grandfather and the boy next door, Chris, are the victims of a hate crime. When the Indian-American girl takes to social media, her posts become viral. Tweens can discover community and the impact of social media as they read the book by Varsha Bajaj, who grew up in Mumbai, India.
 
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep
 
Steven dreams of returning to his village in China. When he learns that his paintbrush has magical powers, he paints his way home with his grandfather and uncle, and wonders if he can also paint his parents back to life.
 
Drawing from images of the beautiful scenery in China, readers gain a better understanding of China’s countryside and a boy’s desire to use magic to bring back loved ones.
 
Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai
 
When her straight A’s got her a family vacation to Vietnam, Mai dreads leaving her home to visit where her family comes from. Feeling a sense of disconnect as she learns about her roots and grandfather, Mai cannot wait to go back home to America. However, as time passes, she realizes new things about her identity and what home truly means.
 
While Mai would rather be in America than Vietnam, her journey back home allows readers to better understand the challenges that Asian American children face as they discover their true identity.
 
Elementary Books, Grades 3-5
 
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
 
Shirley Temple Wong is an immigrant who has recently sailed from China to America. As she finds that America is the land of opportunity, she also finds that it is hard to make friends and feels increasingly isolated. Then summer begins and she is introduced to baseball and Jackie Robinson. The more that she hears of his record-breaking season unfolding on the radio, the more connected she feels to her new country and home.
 
Shirley's story helps young readers gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be an immigrant child and the hardships that they face as they try to assimilate into their new home.
 
Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella by Myrna J. de la Paz, illustrated by Youshan Tang
 
As Abadeha wept and prayed, she saw a beautiful woman, bathed in radiant light, who appeared to take her worries away.
 
So go the blessings of Cinderella's fairy godmother throughout the struggles and eventual triumphs of a young girl against her oppressors. Set in the exotic islands of the Philippines, this tale captures the mystical charm of the indigenous culture of the Filipinos. Colorful images of pre-colonial Philippine scenes, costumes, architecture, and folkways vividly enhance the enchanting narratives.
 
This retelling of lasting value and universal appeal conveys the deep respect and reverence for nature and the earth inherent in the forever-loved story that will never grow old.
 
Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Trina Hyman
 
In poetry and literature the Vietnamese call themselves the "children of the dragon." Their oral tradition is a strong one and this volume includes three of the familiar teaching tales told by the elders. Readers will learn how the tiger got his stripes, why there are monsoons, and the story of the Moon Festival.
 
The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio
 
Lou Bulosan-Nelson has the ultimate summer DIY project. She's going to build her own "tiny house," 100 square feet, all her own. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother's house, and longs for a place where she can escape her crazy but lovable extended Filipino family. Lou enjoys her woodshop class and creating projects, and she plans to build the house on land she inherited from her dad, who died before she was born. But then she finds out that the land may not be hers for much longer.
 
Lou discovers it's not easy to save her land, or to build a house. But she won't give up; and with the help of friends and relatives, her dream begins to take shape, and she learns the deeper meaning of home and family.
 
Early Reading Books, PreK-2 
 
Pig-Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawai'i by Gerald McDermott
 
Pig-Boy is hairy. Pig-Boy is dirty. Pig-Boy is hungry! And when trouble comes, he knows just what to do. (Of course, escaping trouble comes easily to a trickster, who can shape-shift his way out of sticky situations just in time!). With the tropical colors and cadences of the islands, master artist and storyteller, Gerald McDermott, brings irrepressible humor and energy to a Hawaiian trickster tale that's been beloved for generations.
 
Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, illustrated by Ziyue Chen
 
Mela sets out to explore the river outside her village but quickly ends up in trouble when her little boat is swept downstream and into the dense jungle. She encounters a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys, offering each a prize in return for helping her find her way home, but the animals snatch up their rewards without helping Mela back to her village. Just when she's about to give up, an elephant shows Mela that kindness is its own reward. This new fable is told with authentic Thai customs and includes an author's note with more Thai traditions and language.
 
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
 
A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event - a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist, Thi Bui, and acclaimed poet, Bao Phi, deliver a powerful, 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.
 
Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
 
Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, Same. But Different!
 
Through an inviting point-of-view and colorful, vivid illustrations, this story shows how two boys living oceans apart can be the best of friends.

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