16 Books That Celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Culture
April 6, 2021
Asian culture has been, and continues to be, instrumental around the world. Yoga, herbal healing, TikTok and certain beauty practices are just a few of the many, many examples of the way Asian culture has shaped the global landscape. Plus, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community represents over 30 countries, so there’s a lot to learn when it comes to AAPI culture and traditions.
While the learning process is never over (even as adults), one of the best ways to spark continued change and raise a generation of kinder, more accepting kids is to have conversations around racial and cultural differences. Studies show these conversations need to start much sooner than they have been, as babies as young as 3 months old can start to differentiate characteristics based on race.
One of the best ways to teach little ones about AAPI culture? Books! From stories of cooking traditional meals with family and celebrating cultural holidays to teaching classmates how to pronounce a name, these books celebrate and highlight Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ stories and traditions, while also teaching kids the important lesson of how to accept one’s own and someone else’s heritage. Read one (or all!) of these books with your kids to help create a dialogue that celebrates diversity and the AAPI community.
Bee-bim bop, which translates to “mix-mix rice,” is a traditional Korean dish with rice mixed with meat and vegetables. This book tells the story of a hungry girl who helps her mom make the dish, from shopping for the ingredients and preparing them to setting the table and eating her favorite meal. Not only does this book teach little ones about the traditional Korean meal, but it also plays on the universal theme of helping Mom and sharing a delicious meal together.
Duck for Turkey Day tells the story of Tuyet, a Vietnamese American, and her family as they get ready for Thanksgiving. The only problem? Her family is having a duck instead of turkey. This heartwarming story follows Tuyet as she learns all the different kinds of cuisines her classmates have for Thanksgiving dinner—but the one thing they all have in common is celebrating with family. This story is a great way to help teach kids to celebrate differences.
This picture book is about reaching past language barriers and creating bonds through other methods. It follows a young boy who, when visiting his grandfather, finds it difficult to communicate due to their lack of a common language. They both become confused, frustrated and, eventually, silent. However, as they sit down to draw together, they begin to communicate and bond through their shared love of art and storytelling. A story of finding ways to connect past language, Drawn Together is a sweet way of showing the many ways in which people can always find common ground.
Buy it: $12, Amazon.com
The book follows three colors, reds, yellows and blues, who all are unique in their own way and live together peacefully—until Red one day decides that “Reds are the best.” As the colors separate and believe themselves to be superior than the rest, a never-before-seen color helps teach them to embrace each other. This vibrant story is a great way to teach little ones about color and accepting those who are different from them.
Buy it: $13, Amazon.com
Dim Sum translates to “little hearts” or “touches the heart” in English, but to the little girl who serves as the protagonist, it just means delicious. The book follows her as she and her family visit a dim sum restaurant, pick their favorite dishes from trolleys and share the food around a table. The book serves as an educator on the cultural custom and plays on the universal theme of enjoying a meal together.
Buy it: $7, Amazon.com
Amy loves making bao with her family, but she just can’t get the hang of it—they’re either too big, small, understuffed or overfilled. Determined in her quest to make the perfect bao like her family, she enlists their help to learn the process. This book not only helps teach little ones about bao, but it also helps teach them resilience and that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
Buy it: $27, Amazon.com
Sara Mee is about to celebrate her first birthday. The book tells the story of her friends and family gathering for her tol (her first-birthday celebration) and playing toljabee, a traditional Korean prophecy game that predicts what Sara Mee will be when she’s grown up. Not only does this book help teach little ones about the Korean tradition, but it also celebrates family, community and the blending of traditions.
Jenny’s favorite uncle, Peter, is getting married in a traditional Chinese wedding —and Jenny is far from happy. As the rest of her family prepares for the tea ceremony, exchanges hungbau (good-luck money) and helps the bride get dressed, Jenny frets that her new aunt Stella will take her spot as Uncle Peter’s number-one girl and tries to prevent the wedding from happening at all. This book not only helps teach kids about traditional Chinese weddings, but it also shows them what it means to share and welcome someone new into the family.
Buy it: $12, Amazon.com
Yoko arrives at her first day of school with homemade sushi for lunch, but things soon take a wrong turn. As she opens her lunch to eat, her classmates, who are eating various sandwiches they brought from home, say, “Ick. It’s green. It’s seaweed. Yuck-o-rama." Luckily, Yoko’s teacher has a plan she thinks can stop the teasing. Yoko teaches little ones to embrace their own and each other’s heritage by playing on an emotion many may be able to relate to: the embarrassment that comes from having an “uncool lunch.”
Buy it: $17, Amazon.com
The book follows a young, feisty Chinese American girl who can’t believe her parents are cooking Chinese food for the Fourth of July. As she tries to teach them how the all-American holiday should be celebrated, she winds up learning how to embrace her culture and what it really means to be American.
Juno and his grandmother send each other letters—his grandmother writes in Korean and he writes with drawings. Through their own method of communication, he learns she has a new cat and she learns he wants her to come visit. This sweet story is told from a Korean American perspective and teaches kids about foreign cultures and shows what it’s like to have family that lives far away.
Buy it: $7, Amazon.com
This funny picture book retells the story of how Ganesha helped write the Mahabharata, an epic poem in Hindi literature. Ganesha is like any other kid—except he has an elephant’s head and rides around on a magical mouse. He loves sweets, but one bite into a jumbo, jawbreaker laddoo (Indian dessert dish) and his tusk breaks off. With the help of his friends, Ganesha learns that the things that appear broken can still be useful to us after all.
Two young Hawaiians, Kama and Nani, help their grandpa pick all kinds of mangos—large, small, ripe, half-ripe and green—from a mango tree. When they realize they’ve picked too many to fit on their wagon, they share the mangos with friends and family. The book introduces us to the joys of island living, all while teaching valuable lessons about friendship and community.
Buy it: $14, Amazon.com
During Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck is helping her mom make turnip cakes to bring to the neighbors. When the neighbors aren’t home, Goldy decides to try their rice porridge, their chairs and their beds—and it doesn’t go well. This festive retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears introduces a young girl who takes responsibility for her actions and even makes a new friend along the way.
Buy it: $16, Amazon.com
The Name Jar tells the story of Unhei, a young girl who has just moved to America from Korea. She’s anxious no one will like her and is worried about people mispronouncing her name. Instead of introducing herself to her classmates, she tells them that she’ll pick a name for herself the following week. They help her fill a glass jar with options for a name, but one of her classmates learns Unhei’s real name and the meaning behind it, and she encourages her to pick her own Korean name when the time comes. The sweet story is one many young kids (and adults) may be able to relate to and teaches us how to accept those who are different from us.
Yoomi finds Kimchi to be “stinky” and “spicy.” But when she asks her older brothers to play, they refuse because she’s too little, telling her, “big kids eat kimchi.” Yoomi tries to put kimchi on pizza and ice cream to make it taste better, but nothing works—until she makes kimchi pancakes with her grandmother. This engaging story goes beyond food to teach kids about family and traditions.
Buy it: $17, Amazon.com
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