Asian American Voices: Picture Books and Easy Readers

Content Note

I think it goes without saying that the works listed here are all #OwnVoices, either written or illustrated (or both) by members of the Asian American community. I’m going wide, in this community: by “American,” I mean of the Americas, the continents, not the country. Also remember, of course, that Asia is a huge continent—and I’m including authors from across the continent.

I’m compiling this list—and others like it—in response to the anti-Asian hate crimes sweeping the world. But Asian American and Pacific Heritage Month is coming up: these would be great books to read in celebration.

These are, of course, very much selected lists. The books here are largely newer, but are not a comprehensive list of newer books by Asian American authors. There are a lot of other books—and authors—out there. As always, begin here, and read widely.

A note on acquiring books right now

Your library is likely closed right now—and, as hard as that is, it is also as it should be: closing communal spaces will help us stop the spread of Covid-19. You may be able to access many of these books utilizing your public library’s online resources, including Media on Demand (or Overdrive), Hoopla, and possibly Kanopy. (If you aren’t sure what your local library is, consult this resource.)

If you’re looking to buy, may I suggest indiebound? Or, if you know it: seek out your local indie bookstore straight off. I have several, but I’m going to specifically shout out 57th Street Books, where I spent many happy childhood hours, and the Seminary Co-Op, where I spend many happy adult hours, both of which are true Hyde Park institutions and which offer an incredible selection of books of all types.

a note on who can enjoy these books

These are nearly all picture books. I am of the strong opinion that literally anyone can enjoy picture books, because they are beautiful. So go forth and enjoy picture books.

Picture Books

Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk & Felicia Hoshino: Juna and her best friend Hector store treasures from their adventures in empty kimchi bottles. When Hector unexpectedly moves away, Juna turns to her special jar.

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey & Mika Song, a 2020 Schneider Family Honor Book, is the story of Henry and his quest to find a friend.

Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha: When the sun goes dark and it turns out a spirit tiger accidentally swallowed the sun, it’s up to tiny Soe-In to save the day!

Julie Black Belt by Oliver Chin & Charlene Chua: Julie’s got to work hard if she wants to get a black belt in kung fu!

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi: Unhei’s afraid her new classmates will never be able to say her name, so she tells them she’ll choose a different name by the end of the week. But then one of her classmates discovers Unhei’s real name, and what it means….

Hug? by Charlene Chua, coming in fall 2020 (when maybe we’ll be able to hug again!), is a picture book about what happens when a little girl learns to set boundaries—and only hug the animals (and people) she wants to hug.

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz & Dinara Mirtalipova: Leila isn’t always sure she likes herself—but, during a family dinner, after her grandmother compliments her on the beads on her scarf, she looks for other things she loves.

Sora and the Cloud / そらとくも by Felicia Hoshino with Japanese translation by Akiko Hisa: Sora loves to climb! As he grows bigger, he climbs higher—until one day, at the top of a tree, there’s a friendly cloud, just waiting for him.

Bobo and the New Baby by Rebecca Huang: Oldest (and older) littles will relate to little dog Bobo, whose life changes when Mr. and Mrs. Lee bring home a baby.

The Many Colors of Harpeet Singh by Supriya Kelkar & Alea Marley: Harpeet Singh loves colors—but when his mom gets a new job and they move to a cold, snowy, gray new city, will he ever feel sunny again?

Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan & Saffa Khan: A mother shares her love and her wishes for her children in this lyrical picture book.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê & Dan Santat follows a boy and his grandfather as they bridge a language gap with art.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow / 砂漠に咲いたひまわり by Amy Lee-Tai & Felicia Hoshino: It’s hard to see beauty in a place like Topaz, the internment camp where Mari is beginning an art class. But even here there are some glimmers of hope.

I Am Small by Qin Leng: Mimi is so small that she thinks she thought to be called Mini, and even though her friends try to help her find good things about being small-small, she thinks it’s the worst. Then one day there’s something small waiting at home…

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung & Chris Sasaki: This picture book biography tells the story of Tyrus Wong, once a boy named Wong Geng Yeo, who traveled across the ocean from China to America with citizenship papers—and grabbed every opportunity he could to make art.

A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin: Mommy says that the bed’s for sleeping, but Little Snow just can’t resist a jump….

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin: Little Star knows she isn’t supposed to eat that big mooncake, but it’s just so good! Surely her mother won’t notice a nibble….

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin: Visit a family’s dim sum feast in this book!

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstead: This picture book biography tells the life story of American illustrator and animator Gyo Fujikawa.

The Story Boat by Kyo Maclear & Rashin Kheirieyh: When a little girl and her brother must flee the only home they’ve ever known, they must learn to make a new home wherever they are, grabbing onto the smallest things to forge hope and making a story to carry themselves forward.

The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear & Chris Turnham: Charles’ siblings say there’s no such thing as a wish tree, but Charles and his trusty Boggan set out to find one and prove them wrong.

Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh: Papa’s routine is the same almost every day…except for his extra-special day.

Finding Grandma’s Memories by Jiyeon Pak: As Grandma begins to forget things, and sometimes even gets her granddaughter’s name wrong, her granddaughter works to help her remember their special tea-time ritual.

My Grandpa’s Chair by Jiyeon Pak: Julie’s grandfather just can’t find the right chair—until he goes to the park with Julie.

Gondra’s Treasure by Linda Sue Park & Jennifer Black Reinhardt: Gondra’s dragon parents come from the East and the West, and Gondra’s inherited traits from both! Includes an author’s note about cultural dragon traditions from Europe and Asia, reflecting Gondra’s parents.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi & Thi Bui: Young Bao learns about life in Vietnam as he goes fishing early with his father on a small lake in Minneapolis.

My Footprints by Bao Phi & Basia Tran: Angry after a bully’s taunted her, feeling double-different because she is Vietnamese American and has two moms, Thuy wonders about the animals around her, mimicking their footprints on her way home to her moms.

Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan & Carmen Mok (APALA Honor Book): Grandmother walks Grace to school and tells her about growing up in China, but one day, she can’t walk to school anymore.

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee & Pascal Campion: When Aunt Clara can’t come while Mama and Papa are at work as night office cleaners, Daniel has to go with them—into a fantasy world of paper kingdoms, where one day, Daniel himself might be king.

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson & Rebecca Huang: This picture book biography celebrates the Queen of Physics, Wu Chien Shiung—and her family, who helped her become great.

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed & Anoosha Syed: Bilal is excited to make his favorite dish—daal—for his classmates, who’ve never tasted it. But will they like it as much as he does?

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say: Say tells the story of his grandfather’s immigration to the United States in this lovely, spare picture book. (Words are sparingly used; large, beautiful illustrations take up nearly the entire page, making this accessible to younger readers as well as older ones.)

Shubh Diwali! by Chitra Soundar & Charlene Chua: Celebrate the festival of lights in this picture book!

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki: A young girl explores the colors of the world around her.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki & Qin Leng: Hana said she’s play her violin for the talent show—but Hana’s only a beginner, and her brothers don’t think she can do it. Hana’s confidence is wavering by the time the big day comes, but then it’s her turn….

Ojichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki & Genevieve Simms: Every year on her visits to Japan, Mayumi and her grandfather tend the garden of stones he made for her when she was born. But then Ojichan can no longer care for his home and garden, and must move away. How can Mayumi keep the garden alive for both of them?

Suzuki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki & Stéphane Jorisch: Suzuki loves her kimono. She loves it so much that she’s going to wear it to the first day of school, no matter what anybody says! (note that there are a fair amount of words on each page, making this picture book a better option for slightly older readers.)

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang & Kana Urbanowicz: This picture book biography tells the story of Momofuku Ando and the ramen he created—that we all eat today.

The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang & Alina Chau: It’s Chinese New Year, and the Nian Monster’s back, ready to eat all of Shanghai! Can Xingling save the day?

I Miss My Grandpa by Jin Xiaojing: Though the young narrator of I Miss My Grandpa has never met him—he died before she was born—she remembers and misses her grandpa through her family’s stories and memories. The book is written in English, with a Mandarin translation at the back.

A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang & Seo Kim: A young girl’s world changes with the seasons when her family moves into a new home, and she experiences birth and loss, sorrow and joy. She collects natural treasures as she explores—but who are they for?

Umbrella by Taro Yashima: In this classic urban picture book (one of my childhood favorites!), Momo can’t wait to use her new umbrella and and shiny red boots! She just needs it to rain.

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafazi & Kerascoët: Malala wished for a magic pencil—but as she grows older, she knows that she can work to change the world all on her own.

Puddle by Hyewon Yum: A little guy really hates rainy days! But when his mom draws pictures of them having fun in the puddles, he ends up having so much fun that they venture outside to try out the real thing.

Saturday is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum: Swimming is scary, but with her teacher’s encouragement, one girl slowly learns to excel.

The Twins series by Hyewon Yum: Follow twin girls—based loosely on Hyewon Yum and her own twin!—through new experiences, including getting different blankets and becoming big sisters!

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang & Charlene Chua: Amy loves making bao with her family, but hers never turns out right! Can she figure out a way to make the perfect bao?

Easy Readers

Ling & Ting series by Grace Lin: Follow along on the adventures of identical twins Ling and Ting, who are definitely not identical people!

Tea With Oliver and Picnic with Oliver by Mika Song: in which a cat (Philbert) and a mouse (Oliver) become besties and go on adventures.

Stop! Bot! by James Yang won the 2020 Geisel Award. What happens when a boy’s new bot flies away when he’s showing it off to his doorman? All the neighbors (including some sort of giant ape/monkey!) try to help catch it, that’s what!

A Few Literary Awards & Organizations