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Kids’ Books on the Experiences of Asian American Immigrants

by Laurie Espino

kids-books-asian-american-immigrant-experience

Since 1978, the United States has celebrated Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And for over 18 million Asian immigrants in the country, it’s a chance to celebrate our stories. My family came to the US from the Philippines when I was three, and I can tell you first-hand that my experience growing up as an Asian immigrant wasn’t always easy. I was often the only Asian in my class, and people didn’t understand why my eyes were monolid, why my mom packed rice with my lunch, or why I spoke a different language that wasn’t Spanish, French, or German (AKA the ‘standards’).

Books have always been an escape for me, but finding Asian immigrant stories that I could relate to was challenging. Thankfully, there’s been an increase in raising Asian authors’ voices and sharing the complex, multi-layered experiences that millions of children and teens have when they journey from the east.

While Asian Hate is still a concern for the millions of Asian immigrants, it’s imperative that the community’s stories — happy, sad, and every emotion in between — get heard and shared. Here are ten books to get you started.

  • Danbi Leads the School Parade

    by Anna Kim

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    Being the new girl in school is downright terrifying. Danbi is new to America — her family just moved from Korea — but she won’t let that stop her from making her new home a happy one. With a deep breath of courage and a spark of imagination, Danbi turns what could’ve been a terrible first day into a positive one. Anna Kim uses her experience as a young Korean immigrant to tell a story about courage for little ones starting a new school or adventure, brought to life by gorgeous illustrations.
    Ages 3 - 7

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  • Watercress

    by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin

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    Too often, immigrant children become embarrassed by their homeland's customs and traditions when they move to a new country. They hide them in an attempt to conform to the new culture. Named Best Children’s Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, author Andrea Wang sheds light on the emotional struggle countless immigrant children experience when caught between two cultures. Award-winning artist Jason Chin gives Wang’s story a classic feel with breathtaking illustrations inspired by Chinese painting techniques.
    Ages 4 - 8

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  • Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist

    by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

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    For almost a century, Disney’s movie, Bambi, has captured the hearts of children and adults. One story that hasn’t been told as much but certainly needs to is Tyrus Wong’s. Tyrus was born in China as Wong Geng Yeo. He came to America with barely anything and went from being a night janitor to the artistic genius that created the breathtaking backgrounds for the world’s most famous deer. Readers will feel inspired by his unforgettable story.
    Ages 4 - 8

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  • Coolies

    by Yin, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet

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    Yin reminds readers of a time often neglected in American history. In 1865, while America builds its transcontinental railroad, Shek and his brother take the opportunity to travel to the United States for a new life. The brothers go to California and work as laborers setting railways. They remain dedicated to their work and committed to saving enough money to bring the rest of their family from China to the US. Unfortunately, racism, discrimination, and danger mark every day of their new lives. Accompanied with Soentpiet’s bold illustrations, we see how much Asian Americans’ ancestors sacrificed for a life in America.
    Ages 7 - 10

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  • The Many Meanings of Meilan

    by Andrea Wang

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    Meilan Hua’s home is in Boston’s Chinatown, where her parents and Nai Nai’s bakery are located. But when her beloved Nai Nai dies, Meilan Hua and her parents must move to Ohio. Everything she knows from Boston’s Chinatown is different in Ohio, and her cherished Chinese stories and traditions get thrown out the window. Even her name gets changed! Newbery Honor-winning author Andrea Wang makes her middle-grade debut with a story about a protagonist who learns to accept herself and her heritage, delivered in beautiful prose.
    Ages 9 - 12

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  • Front Desk

    by Kelly Yang

    Introduce your middle schooler to the Front Desk series! Mia Tang’s family moved to America for a better life. The whole family — little Mia included — runs the Calivista Motel. Mia’s job is to help guests and watch over the front desk. But her family has a big secret — they hide immigrants at the motel. Through Mia’s adventures, Kelly Yang delivers a complex and wholesome story about first-generation immigrants’ hardships, discoveries, and joys. Yang also tackles tough topics like poverty, bullying, robbery, and systemic oppression.
    Ages 9 - 12

  • We Belong

    by Cookie Hiponia

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    From debut novelist Cookie Hiponia comes the story of Stella and Luna, two second-generation sisters who know nothing about their mother’s past in the Philippines. When they ask about her childhood in the island nation, they get a combination of Filipino folklore tales and stories about the harsh realities of young immigrants. Discover the magic of the Filipino culture from an author whose personal experiences parallel those in this unforgettable book.
    Ages 10+

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  • American Betiya

    by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

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    First love can sometimes be the most heartbreaking. For Rani Kelkar, her first love is Arthur, a tattoo-covered art enthusiast that her Indian parents would NOT approve of. As their love story takes a downward turn, Rani isn’t sure how much of herself to give. Rajurkar’s writing transports us into the characters’ world, and readers will feel the intense emotions, heartbreak, and racism that come with an interracial relationship.
    Ages 13+

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  • The Downstairs Girl

    by Stacey Lee

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    Lose yourself in Stacey Lee’s New York Times bestselling novel, The Downstairs Girl. Set in Atlanta in the late 1880s, Jo Kuan is a 17-year-old Chinese girl working for the cruelest man in the city. To everyone else, she’s just a Chinese girl — overlooked and rarely heard. But Jo Kuan is keeping a big secret — she’s the anonymous writer behind “Dear Miss Sweetie,” a newspaper advice column for the ladies of the upper echelons of Southern society. Lee gives us an unforgettable novel featuring complex characters and complicated topics like social inequality, racism, and loss.
    Ages 13+

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  • Frankly in Love

    by David Yoon

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    In this New York Times instant bestseller, Frank is head-over-heels in love, but he has one big problem — his girlfriend is white. This is something his traditional Korean parents would never approve of. Thankfully, his bestie, Joy Song, agrees to fake date him to get his (and her) parents off their backs. Their plan sounds full-proof, but when he gets thrown a curveball, Frank must re-examine everything he knows about love.
    Ages 13+

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