Children's and YA Books with Asian Heritage Themes

Introduction

by author Greg Leitich Smith (Japanese-German American)

The field of Asian American children's and young adult literature includes many wonderful books — poetically written and exquisitely illustrated.

The number of children's authors and illustrators working from the relevant communities is steadily on the rise, and some of these folks — like Yumi Heo, Cynthia Kadohata, Allen Say, An Na, Linda Sue Park, Janet Wong, Lisa Yee, and Laurence Yep — have received great critical acclaim.

Books featuring Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters — while still limited in number — are far more prevalent than those reflecting any other Asian or Asian American community, especially the Southeast Asian. We hope to see more quality books reflecting the diversity of Asian American life in the future.

Highlighted Books

author/poet Janet Wong photograph
Visit Janet Wong

A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND OTHER POEMS by Janet S. Wong (McElderry, 1996). Drawing on her Chinese, Korean, and American backgrounds, poet Wong offers an insightful, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny voice to children's poetry. Free verse. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. for ages 10-up.

ChainedCHAINED by Lynne Kelly (FSG, 2012). Ten-year-old Hastin takes a job with a circus owner in order to pay off his sister's hospital bill.  His job -- to care for the baby elephant Nandita -- is made more difficult by the cruel elephant trainer and the circus owner.  He contemplates running away with her, but where can a ten-year-old boy go to hide out with an elephant? Chained offers a thought-provoking look at elephants and how how captive elephants are sometimes treated, as well as a compelling protagonist and poignant coming-of-age story. Ages 8-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

DUMPLING SOUP by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders (Little Brown, 1992). Marisa enjoys preparing dumplings with her Chinese, Japanese, Korean, haole (white) family in celebration of the New Year. This charming picturebook is rare in that it's set in Hawaii and features a multiracial family. Ages 4-up.

JOURNEY HOME by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Dom & Keunhee Lee (Lee & Low, 1998). Mai accompanies her mother on a journey from the U.S. to Vietnam to search for her mother's birth family. Their only clue is the kite Mai’s mother has had since she first came to the U.S. and was adopted by a white family. Though it is not the main theme of the book, Mai is also a child of Ango-Vietnamese heritage. This is a gentle, thoughtful story that explores the linking of worlds, loss and rediscovery, as well as the many definitions of family. Ages 5-up.

MAYA RUNNING by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). It's 1978, and Indian-born Maya is the only middle-schooler with brown skin in her small Manitoba town. A bully taunts her, Maya's ultra-Indian cousin Pinky attracts Maya's boyfriend, and Maya's embarrassing parents want to move to California! Maybe the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, can make all her wishes come true. But is that what she really wants? Ages 10-up.

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith

Ninjas, Piranhas,
and Galileo by
Greg Leitich Smith

Please Note: The Japanese American children's book bibliography is currently the most fully developed because it was the initial Asian American children's book page on this site. The others were added as of February 1999. If you have any suggestions for other Asian American children's or young adult books, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Segregation and Shelf Space from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's Literature Resources. A brief discussion of ethnic categorization in children's literature.

If you are looking for books in languages other than English, you may also want to try the Magic Tree Bookstore Inc. at 141 N. Oak Park Ave, Oak Park, IL, USA (708) 848-0770.

Children's Books with Asian and Asian-American Themes from CYALR. Includes numerous more related links.

Childbook.com: features Chinese Children Books, Video's, Audio and computer CD's, and other materials for libraries, ESL Programs, and government institutions for teaching Chinese Culture and Language with secure online ordering.

Children's and Young Adult Books with Japanese and Japanese American Characters & Themes from CYALR. Emphasizes immigration and the internment of Japanese Americans.

Pacific Rim Voices is the website of the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, which was created in 1996 to encourage the publication and readership of books that will increase understanding about the nations and peoples of the Pacific Rim region. The site, launched in September 1999, features not only information about the Kiriyama Prize -- its winners and finalists, but also book reviews, calendar listings, regional focus pages, author interviews, original fiction, links to other Pacific Rim related sites, and more. New features will be posted to the site regularly.

papertigers.org: featuring Pacific Rim and South Asian peoples and cultures through children's and young adult books. Features interviews, essential reading, resources, and reviews. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

South Asia and the South Asia Diaspora in Children's Literature from Pooja Makhijani.