13 Books for Kids that Celebrate
All Things Asian

by Laura Lambert

Even though I grew up eating kimchi and saying ko-map-sup-ni-da, the only “Asian” book I read as a child was Tikki Tikki Tembo. It was a favorite of mine, but looking back, I’m not sure that I learned much about Asian culture. People even argue whether the folktale is Chinese or Japanese.

My two kids also love the breathless tongue twister of Tikki’s full name. But I’m happy to report that thirty-some years later, there are some truly great books about the various Asian cultures — almost all with a focus on family and food. (But mostly food.)

  • Beginner Books

  • Bee-bim Bop

    by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

    If you believe, as I do, that culture begins and ends in the stomach, you’ll know why nothing is more comforting to me than a big bowl of bi bim bap, a traditional Korean rice bowl with veggies, often meat, and a fried egg on top. This sweet little rhyming book celebrates making this humble dish with mama — recipe included. Author Linda Sue Park also wrote the Newberry Award-winning book A Single Shard, a middle-grade book about an orphan boy in 12th century Korea.

  • Dim Sum for Everyone!

    by Grace Lin

    Available from:

    Again with the food? Yes, because who doesn’t love dim sum? This book features the à la carte yumminess that is the Chinese dim sum tradition and highlights a key Asian cultural tradition — eating together.

    Also available from:
  • Yoko

    by Rosemary Wells

    Yoko, the first in a series by beloved children’s book author Rosemary Wells, offers another sweet lesson about diversity through the lens of food. Yoko’s favorite lunch is sushi, but her classmates aren’t so sure about it — in fact, they think it’s pretty gross. For a lot of modern kids, sushi isn’t so very exotic. But it still serves as a jumping off point for a lesson about cultural differences. Later in the series, Yoko and her Japanese mother learn to read and fly to Japan!

  • Early Readers

  • Dear Juno

    by Soyung Park, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung

    Available from:

    I was an English-speaking toddler cared for by a grandmother who spoke only Korean, so I know well how two people who love each other can surpass whatever intergenerational, cross-cultural hurdles there may be to communicate. Juno’s grandmother writes in Korean; Juno sends pictures — and they understand each other just fine.

    Also available from:
  • Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji

    by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

    Another food-focused trip, through India this time. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji won the 2012 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Honor for Picture Books and the Best Children's Books of the Year Bank Street College of Education for it’s depiction of Aneel and his grandparents, visiting from India and full of wondrous tales, powered by roti! Recipe included.

  • The Name Jar

    by Yangsook Choi

    Available from:

    My daughter is only one-quarter Korean, but we share the same Korean middle name, and there’s something about the plight of little Unhei, the new Korean-from-Korea kid in class, that speaks to her. Unhei is so shy about people pronouncing her names that she claims she doesn’t yet have one. As her fellow classmates fill a name jar with ideas, Unhei comes to embrace what’s uniquely hers.

    Also available from:
  • Zen Shorts

    by John Muth

    Zen Shorts is a Caldecott Honor Book that spent 41 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list — that alone says a lot. In it, author John Muth uses a panda named Stillwater to tell, in an accessible way, three ancient Zen tales meant to get us thinking about Big Ideas, like forgiveness, good and evil, and the price of anger. Even kids who miss the deeper messages will adore the illustration and storytelling. Muth followed this with a companion book, Zen Ties.

  • Wabi Sabi

    by Mark Reibstein

    “Am I beautiful or ordinary?” asks Wabi Sabi, a brown cat from Kyoto who embarks on a journey to understand her name. The answer, she finds, is both — like the Japanese word for which she is named, which celebrates the beauty in what is simple, imperfect, and modest. This beautifully constructed book is laid out so that you flip pages bottom-to-top instead of left-to-right, which, in itself, is oddly lovely. It was the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book for 2008 and an Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) Picture Book winner that same year.

So, clearly, this list doesn’t quite cover all things Asian. There are countries we didn’t cover — and cuisines! Which of your favorite Asian books are missing from the list?