Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Picks

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Our Book Chat team has put together a a great list of books for readers of all ages in honor of this month. These books both honor Asian and Pacific American historical figures and celebrate the Asian and Pacific American experience. A small selection is listed below; find more picks on our Recommended Reads page. Don't forget you can print downloadable bookmarks on our Community page as well!

Adult Fiction

 

My Year Abroad

 

My Year Abroad, by Chang-Rae Lee
Tiller is an average American college student with a good heart but minimal aspirations. Pong Lou is a larger-than-life, wildly creative Chinese American entrepreneur who sees something intriguing in Tiller beyond his bored exterior and takes him under his wing. When Pong brings him along on a boisterous trip across Asia, Tiller is catapulted from ordinary young man to talented protégé, and pulled into a series of ever more extreme and eye-opening experiences that transform his view of the world, of Pong, and of himself.

 

The Mountains Sing

 

The Mountains Sing, by Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai
The Mountains Sing
tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family.

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born -- a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam -- and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity.

 

Adult Nonfiction

 

Eat a Peach

 

Eat a Peach, by David Chang and Gabe Ulla
In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in Manhattan's East Village. Its young chef-owner, David Chang, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. It would have been impossible to know it at the time, but Chang was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation. Full of grace, candor, grit, and humor, Eat a Peach lays bare his mistakes and extraordinary luck as Chang recounts what led him to the top of his profession.

 

The Magical Language of Others

 

The Magical Language of Others, by E.J. Koh
The Magical Language of Others
is a powerful and aching love story in letters. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh's parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Her mother writes letters in Korean over the years seeking forgiveness and love--letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.

As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history. How do we find words, in any language, to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love?

 

America for Americans

 

America for Americans, by Erika Lee
The United States is known as a nation of immigrants. But it is also a nation of xenophobia. In America for Americans, Erika Lee shows that an irrational fear and hostility toward immigrants has been a defining feature of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. Benjamin Franklin ridiculed Germans. Americans' anxiety over Irish Catholics turned xenophobia into a national political movement. Chinese immigrants were excluded, Japanese incarcerated, and Mexicans deported. Now updated with an afterword reflecting on how the coronavirus pandemic turbocharged xenophobia, America for Americans is an urgent spur to action for any concerned citizen.

 

Teens

 

A Pho Love Story

 

A Pho Love Story, by Le Loan
For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who've avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition. But then a chance encounter brings Linh, Bao, and their conflicting personalities in the same vicinity. Despite their best efforts, sparks fly. Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

 

Parachutes

 

Parachutes, by Kelly Yang
Claire Wang never thought she'd be a “parachute.” Then her parents plucked her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enrolled her an American high school.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire's new host sister, is not thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids buying their way to the top.

As they steer their own paths, Dani and Claire keep crashing into one another, setting a course that will change their lives forever.

 

Frankly in Love

 

Frankly in Love, by David Yoon
Frank Li has two names. Frank is his American name, and Sung-Min is his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents.

Frank is dating the girl of his dreams. Brit Means is funny and nerdy like him. However, Frank’s parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl, and Brit is white.

Desperate to be with Brit, Frank turns to Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. But when life throws him a curveball, Frank wonders whether he ever really knew anything about love, or himself, at all.

 

Middle Grades

 

Pie in the Sky

 

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he's landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn't speak English, and he's often stuck looking after his little brother, Yanghao.

As a distraction, Jingwen daydreams about making baking cakes like his father did before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother doesn’t allow the brothers to use the oven while she's at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao start baking, they'll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep their secret from Mama.

 

Red, White, and Whole

 

Red, White, and Whole, by Rajani LaRocca
Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she's the only Indian American student, and home, with her family's traditions and holidays. But Reha's parents don't understand why she's conflicted. They only notice when Reha doesn't meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her Amma, her mother. Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can't stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She'll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma's life.

 

The Comeback

 

The Comeback, by E.L. Shen
Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn't concerned, though. She’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, and at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

 

Early Readers

 

The Most Beautiful Thing

The Most Beautiful Thing, by Kao Kalia Yang
Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang's childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family's early years in the United States.

When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother--a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth--who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most. Stunning illustrations from Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le bring this intergenerational tale to life.

 

My Footprints

My Footprints, by Bao Phi
Every child feels different in some way, but Thuy feels "double different." She is Vietnamese American and she has two moms. Thuy walks home one winter afternoon, angry and lonely after a bully's taunts. Then a bird catches her attention and sets Thuy on an imaginary exploration.

 

Maya Lin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Lin, by Jeanne Walker Harvey
As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architectwho designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

Pre-Readers

 

I Dream of Popo

 

I Dream of Popo, by Liva Blackburne
This rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.

I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.

I wave at Popo before I board my flight.

I talk to Popo from across the sea.

I tell Popo about my adventures.

When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.

 

The Ocean Calls

 

The Ocean Calls, by Tina Cho
Dayeon wants to be a haenyeo, just like Grandma. The haenyeo dive off the coast of Jeju Island to pluck treasures from the sea. To Dayeon, the haenyeo are as strong and graceful as mermaids. To give her strength, Dayeon eats Grandma's abalone porridge. She practices holding her breath while they do the dishes. And when Grandma suits up for her next dive, Dayeon grabs her suit, flippers, and goggles. A scary memory of the sea keeps Dayeon clinging to the shore, but with Grandma's guidance, Dayeon comes to appreciate the ocean's many gifts.

 

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, by Joanna Ho
A young Asian girl notices her eyes look different from her peers'. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother's, her grandmother's, and her little sister's. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.

Published on April 28, 2021
Last Modified July 25, 2021