19 Books That Feature Asian American Heroes & Leads

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When it comes to kids’ books, representation matters. This is especially true for minorities, immigrants and other marginalized people whose stories often don’t receive the same attention as “mainstream” white characters. Check out our roundup of just a few of our favorite books that feature strong Asian American protagonists. These books range from historical fiction to graphic novels to bilingual picture books and even chapter books for kids that’ll appeal to readers of all ages and backgrounds.

How Do You Say Good Night? 

Pre-schoolers will enjoy learning how to say good night in 10 different languages, including Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese, Swahili, Arabic, Vietnamese, German and Korean. This bedtime follow-up to author Cindy Jin’s How Do You Say I Love You? features adorable illustrations by Shirley Ng-Benitz and is the perfect way for parents to wish their little ones a good night’s sleep in any language. 

Recommend for readers ages 2-4.

Available on Amazon, $7.39.

Chinese New Year Wishes: Chinese Spring and Lantern Festival Celebration

Written in English and simplified Chinese, Chinese New Year Wishes is a colorfully illustrated picture book that follows the adventures of a Chinese-American boy named Hong as he and his family prepare for and celebrate the Chinese New Year Festival. Author Jillian Lin and illustrator Shi Meng have created an enjoyable story behind one of the most important annual celebrations in many East Asian cultures, including interesting facts about the festival and recommended questions for discussion at the back of the book. 

Recommended for readers ages 2-6.

Available on Amazon, $10.99.

Dim Sum for Everyone!

If music is the food of love, then Grace Lin’s delightful sing-song love letter to dim sum will touch the hearts (and stomachs) of anyone who has ever sampled the delicious joys of these little Chinese dishes. The story follows a little girl and her family as they visit a bustling dim sum restaurant, picking their favorite dishes from steaming trolleys filled with dumplings, cakes, buns and tarts. With simple words written and expressed in both English and Chinese, this bilingual board book is a yummy read for any budding foodie. 

Recommended for readers ages 3-6.

Available on Amazon, $6.99. 

Little Jagadish and the Great Experiment

This book by Ajali Joshi chronicles the journey of a young boy named Jagadish who sets out to find solutions to unanswered questions using the scientific method. Inspired by the life and work of Indian physicist, botanist, and author Jagadish Chandra Bose, this story encourages young readers to embrace their curiosity and unleash their inner scientist. 

Get it here, $10

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh

Author Supriya Kelkar’s debut children’s book celebrates the life of an Indian-American boy named Harpreet Singh who is a practicing Sikh. Harpreet’s culture and religion are affirmed in the colorful patkas or head covering that he wears. When his family moves to a new city, everything feels gray for Harpreet, but by wearing a colorful patka to express his mood and suit different occasions, he is able to bring color to an otherwise dull world. Illustrator Alea Marley nicely depicts Harpreet’s joy and exuberance through simple yet powerful images. 

Recommended for readers ages 3-7.

Available on Amazon, $11.29.

The Name Jar

Like many immigrants from non-English-speaking countries, the main character in The Name Jar has a name that her majority classmates find difficult to pronounce. Unhei recently moved to the U.S. from Korea, and instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells her classmates that she will choose a new “American” name by the following week, with suggested new names placed into a jar. As Unhei makes friends, her naming path leads to embracing her culture, identity, and given name with the support of her new community. 

Recommended for readers ages 3-7.

Available on Amazon, $7.99.

Super Satya Saves the Day

Super Satya is ready to have a super day, including finally conquering the tallest slide in Hoboken. But her day takes a not-so-super turn when she realizes her superhero cape is stuck at the dry cleaner. Will she be able to face her fears, help her friends and be the true hero everyone knows she is? Super Satya Saves The Day introduces Satya, a precocious Indian-American superhero.

Get it here

Bee-Bim Bop! 

Bibimbop is a traditional Korean dish of rice topped and then mixed with meat and vegetables. Author Linda Sue Park has created a fun picture book for pre-schoolers that uses bouncy rhyming text to tell the story of a young girl recounting all the ways she helps her mother make this delicious dish, from shopping, preparing ingredients, setting the table, and finally sitting down with her family to enjoy a favorite meal. Featuring whimsical illustrations, which sweetly depicts the lives of a modern Korean-American family, the book includes the author’s recipe for bibimbop. 

Recommended for readers ages 4-7.

Available on Amazon, $7.99.

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas

Writer Natasha Yim and illustrator Grace Zong have transplanted the classic British fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and set the story in a bustling contemporary Chinatown. It's Chinese New Year, and young Goldy Luck’s mother wants her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy from trying out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results. Soon, things take a turn for the absurd., i.e., Pandas! 

Recommended for readers ages 4-8.

Available on Amazon, $7.95.

This celebration of trailblazing Asian-Americans who changed the world is beautifully illustrated and features the captivating and inspiring stories of a wide range of American heroes of Asian descent, ranging from Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and classical musician Yo-Yo Ma to astronaut Ellison Onizuka and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, plus many more. As a Filipina-American mother and Fulbright Scholar who served in the U.S. Air Force, author Analiza Quiroz Wolf is herself an inspirational Asian-American role model. 

Recommended for readers ages 6-12.

Available on Amazon, $19.63.

Brandon Makes Jiǎo Zi

First-time author Eugenia Chu’s illustrated children’s book mixes American and Chinese cultures and blends traditions and languages in a simply told and engaging story. The title character, Brandon, is an American-born Chinese boy who bonds with his Chinese grandmother by making dumplings with her. The story is told in both English and simplified Chinese and is a fun read for families with children who are learning—or who are interested in—Mandarin or Chinese culture. 

Recommended for readers age 7-11.

Available on Amazon, $21.43.

Sam Wu Is Not Afraid Series

London-based authors Kevin and Katie Tsang are a husband and wife writing duo who conceived the Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series based on memories of Kevin’s childhood fears while growing up in Atlanta. Sam Wu is the kind of character who young readers will immediately identify with: brash on the outside, but doubtful on the inside. Each book in the series tackles one thing or other that our hero is most definitely NOT at all but maybe actually totally afraid of, whether it’s ghosts, sharks, spiders or zombies. Funny, silly, and earnest in equal measures, Sam Wu would never be mistaken for a wimpy kid. 

Recommended for readers ages 7-12.

Available on Amazon, $39.99 for the series.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire

The titular character of Susan Tan’s quasi-autobiographical debut novel is a precocious soon-to-be third-grader named Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins who is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian, and 100% destined to become a future author extraordinaire. The irresistible Cilla and all of the other fully realized cast of characters in the book are beautifully and humorously written, and Tan tackles tough subjects like biracial identity and the challenges of growing up in a black and white world with great wit, compassion and flair. 

Recommend for readers ages 8-12.

Available on Amazon, $6.99.

Girl Giant and the Monkey King

If your young reader is a fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Van Hoang’s debut novel will appeal with its mix of magic, adventure, and middle-school woes. Girl Giant and the Monkey King tells the story of Thom Ngho, an 11-year-old Vietnamese-American heroine who is keeping a secret: she is extraordinarily strong—and her strength is making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school. Thom accidentally unleashes the Monkey King, a powerful and mischievous deity, and she soon realizes that dealing with this notorious trickster may be more trouble than it’s worth. 

Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

Purchase on Amazon, $16.99.

Green Lantern: Legacy

Asian-American comic-book superheroes are few and far between, so when writer Minh Lê and illustrator Andie Tong reimagined the Green Lantern story as told through the adventures of a 13-year-old Vietnamese-American boy named Tai Pham, many in the Asian-American community rejoiced. This graphic novel nicely interweaves Vietnamese culture with the origin stories of DC Comics space cops known as the Green Lanterns, with Tai’s grandmother's jade ring functioning at the power-inducing rings owned and operated by the Green Lantern corps across the universe. 

Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

Available on Amazon, $7.49.

Pippa Park Raises Her Game

While trying to navigate friendships and cyberbullying, tweenager Pippa Park receives a prestigious athletic scholarship, which leads her to reinvent herself at her new private middle school. Author Erin Yun cleverly reimagines Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations through the experiences of a funny, kind-hearted Korean-American heroine whose journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance wends through the corridors of middle school, sports action, and underprivileged immigrant home. Sharp and poignant, young readers will enjoy learning about class relations and ethnic identity.

Recommended for readers ages 9-13.

Available on Amazon, $12.99.

A Place to Belong

Newbery Medal award-winning author Cynthia Kadohata takes young readers back to the end of WWII in the U.S. and Japan. After spending four years in internment camps, the 12-year-old protagonist, Hanako, and her American-born family are forced to renounce their American citizenship and expatriate to Japan. This historical fiction tells a story from the past but reflects the dangerous xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric that’s present today. This beautifully written novel will resonate with young readers who will relate to the pressure Hanako feels as a young kid giving up everything known for something entirely different.

Recommended for readers ages 10-14.

Available on Amazon, $11.99.

The House That Lou Built

Lou has a big dream: to build a tiny house. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother’s house in San Francisco and longs for a place of her own, where she can escape her crazy but lovable extended Filipino family. It’s not so easy to build one, but she won’t give up on her dreams—her friends and family won’t either. This beautiful coming-of-age story is set around the Bay and explores culture and family, forgiveness and friendship, and what makes a true home.

Best for readers ages 8 - 12

Available on Amazon, $6.99. 

Bravo Anjali

Young readers will enjoy the story of Anjali as she struggles with friendship and owning her exceptional talent in the tabla world where she is the only girl. A follow-up story to Always Anjali, this story inspires young readers to never dim their light and to never let anyone make her feel bad for being good at something.

Ages: 3 to 8

Get it here, $19.95. 

—Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

Featured image: iStock 



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