From Here to Diversity Series: 18 Books for Asian, Pacific Islander, and Asian American Children and Young Adults

The novel coronavirus has awakened a new normal for all of us even after schools let out. As we attempt to unite against this unseen enemy, inequalities and prejudices continue to be revealed. From COVID-19 being labelled the “Chinese” virus to the unprecedented racism toward Asian American students due to the coronavirus, it’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do to combat racism and xenophobia in our society.

But this time has also presented us an opportunity to gain deeper understanding and empathy for those who may be different from ourselves. It is my belief that while we have this time, we should use it to be better than before.

It is with this thought in mind that the SERC Library Blog continues its “From Here to Diversity” series dedicated to providing 18 exciting book recommendations for children, preteens, and young adults that recognize the importance of diverse representation in reading materials.

This month, we are shedding some more light on diverse representation by choosing 18 novels that feature protagonists and other characters from an Asian or Pacific Islander cultural background. With the acknowledgment that only 7 percent of all children’s books published in 2018 featured characters of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, it remains important to provide exposure to these stories so that all young readers can feel seen and heard*.

In the list below, there are three sections of books: Picture Books, Middle Grade Novels, and High School Reads. The six books in each section feature predominantly #ownvoices stories and have been published within the last few years. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a taste of the variety of stories that provide representation to these communities, appreciate an underrepresented perspective of experience, acknowledge histories, and celebrate #ownvoices authors and stories.


Image of an open book

Elementary Reads

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English and Jonathan Weiner

Nadia is chosen to be part of her aunt’s traditional Pakistani wedding. Readers will follow along as Nadia learns about her culture through the decoration of her hands with traditional mehindi.

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe and Richard Waldrep

Surfer of the Century provides a look at the life of native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic swimming champion and “father of modern surfing.” Though he struggled due to racism and other issues, Duke Kahanamoku overcame much to become a six-time Olympic medalist.

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin

Discover all the tasty foods as a Chinese American family enjoys a traditional dim sum meal. Readers will learn about the origins and practice of dim sum from the beautiful artwork and educational author’s note.

Role Models Who Look Like Me: Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Who Made History by Jasmine M. Cho

Explore this inspiring selection of stories about a variety of influential Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from history. The beautiful watercolor illustrations and rhyming stories will capture the imagination of young readers and show them the many things they can achieve.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee; illustrated by Man One

Follow the story of real Korean-American and Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi in a story experience that blends the appreciation of street food and street art.  To Chef Roy Choi, food is love and culture. It is with this idea that he has brought his love of Korean cuisine to the people by remixing and serving it in a food truck on the streets. Follow his story as he learns to make people smile with his delicious food.

Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha

Soe-In may be small in stature, but she’s big in enthusiasm and bravery. Though she often has trouble with chores due to her size, she doesn’t hesitate to help out when members of her community decide to travel into the mountains to investigate why the sun has gone dark. They soon learn that a spirit tiger has swallowed the sun by mistake. Soe-In must come up with a clever idea to help the spirit tiger and her community, and return the sun to the sky.

Pictures of the book covers of Nadia’s Hands by Karen English and Jonathan Weiner, Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe and Richard Waldrep, Dim Sum for Everyone! By Grace Lin, Role Models Who Look Like Me: Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Who Made History by Jasmine M. Cho, hef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee; illustrated by Man One, and Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha.

Middle School Reads

Dumpling Days (Pacy Lin series, Book 3) by Grace Lin

Pacy and her family are going to Taiwan for one month to celebrate her grandmother’s 60th birthday. She is very excited to travel, eat lots of dumplings, and attend the Chinese painting class her parents signed her up for. But things are not as she expected them to be. The language makes it difficult for her to make friends and understand her art teacher. Yet the more time Pacy spends in Taiwan, the more she learns about her own identity and what it means to be both American and Taiwanese.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Notable actor George Takei details his childhood and upbringing as a Japanese-American in this poignant autobiographical graphic novel. Takei recounts his experiences as his entire family is forced into an American concentration camp which imprisoned thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. Read about Takei’s journey as he discusses the fear, courage, loyalty, and family that made him the activist he is today.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Mai had plans of spending her summer at the beach, but her parents have other plans: Mai is forced to travel with her grandmother to Vietnam. To Mai, Vietnam is not part of her culture. It is so different from where she grew up in California, where the environment is not constantly hot and smelly, and the customs and language are not confusing. To be able to get through her trip, Mai must discover how to achieve the balance between the two cultures she is now a part of.

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Aru Shah series, Book 1) by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah has a habit of lying in order to fit in. But when classmates come to her home at the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture to catch her in her fib that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, she feels compelled to prove them wrong by lighting the lamp. But by doing so she has unwittingly frozen time and awakened the God of Destruction. Aru must find the 5 Pandavas to save the world and right the wrong she started.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook

Chaya is a thief who steals from the wealthy to give to the poor people in her community. But when she steals jewelry from the Queen, even she has to agree that it probably wasn’t her best idea. She flees with some friends and a stolen elephant into the Sri Lankan jungle to avoid her crimes but ends up confronting dangers around every corner.

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

The story of Suraya and her pelesit is based on a Malayasian folktale. Given to her by her witch grandmother, Suraya has grown up with her pelesit as a constant companion. Even so, Suraya doesn’t know that, while being ghostly companions, pelesits can also have a powerful, dark side that can be vicious and dangerous. When Suraya’s pelesit turns dark, she must find light in her friendships to survive.

Pictures of the book covers of Dumpling Days by Grace Lin, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook, and The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf.

High School Reads

Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible by Suzanne Kamata

Aiko Cassidy is the teenage artist behind the popular manga Gadget Girl—not that anyone knows it. Aiko has cerebral palsy, and she prefers to stay invisible even as she tries to break away from being her mother’s muse for her award-winning sculptures. When her mother is invited to go to Paris for an art exhibition, Aiko is invited to come along too even though she would much rather visit Tokyo so she could finally meet her father. But being in Paris leads to new experiences and connections that make her wonder if being invisible is really what she wants after all.

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Taiwanese-American student Mei has her life planned out for her by her parents. Though she is on track to get a degree at MIT, become a doctor, and eventually marry a suitable Taiwanese man, Mei hates biology and has a crush on a Japanese classmate. How can she stay true to herself when she knows that going against her parents’ wishes means estrangement from her family, just like what happened to her brother?

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

Reshma Kapoor has her eyes set on going to Stanford. She’s got the grades, the extracurriculars, and even has a book deal and literary agent just for the purpose of securing her an acceptance letter. But Reshma is pretty sure that no one would want to read a book by her overly studious self. So she sets out to make herself a more likeable protagonist by making friends, getting a boyfriend, and letting go of her perfectionism. But is it enough to get her the awesome ending she has worked so hard for?

Flame in the Mist (Series, Book 1) by Renee Ahdieh

Clever and accomplished Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden in a political marriage that will increase her family’s prominence and social standing. But before Mariko can reach the imperial city where her marriage will take place, a well-known and dangerous gang of bandits attacks and tries to kill her. After narrowly escaping with her life, Mariko attempts to sneak into the bandits’ camp dressed as a boy to find out their plans. Yet she soon finds acceptance and love within the gang’s ranks which will make her question everything she thinks she knows.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel have been arranged to be together—not that Dimple knows that. Dimple believes her mother is respecting her wishes to wait for marriage by supporting her enrollment at a summer web developer program. Meanwhile, Rishi is a romantic who believes in tradition and hopes to woo Dimple at the summer program they are attending. With such very different people, hilarity is bound to ensue.

Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng is a talented artist with a bright future and plans to go to RISD for college. But this means leaving everything he has ever known: his home in California, his family, and his best friend Harry with whom he is secretly in love.  Among these upcoming changes, Danny discovers a mysterious box in the closet of his parents’ house that will uncover a family secret and change his world forever.

Pictures of the book covers of Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible by Suzanne Kamata,  American Panda by Gloria Chao, Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia, Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, and Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert.


* Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Retrieved from 

Disclaimer: Resources and listings in this blog post do not indicate approval or endorsement by SERC or the Connecticut State Department of Education.  The listings are provided solely as a resource of general information.

Author: Cassondra McCarthy

Cassondra McCarthy is an English/Language Arts teacher-turned-Library Associate who seeks to match education professionals and parents with the resources they need to ensure every student has a successful present and future. After spending several years working in Connecticut school districts, Cassondra understands the struggle educators face to match the needs of the student with the right solution. She firmly believes that, given the right tools and inspiration, every child can achieve the excellence that will allow them to reach for their dreams.This is why she is dedicated to designing the SERC Library to be a welcoming, inclusive space for all with a collection of highly developed resources to support teachers and parents as they advocate for the young people in their lives. The SERC Library is committed to being at the forefront of innovation in education so that we can achieve the goal of providing an equitable education for all. If we can unite to ensure that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed, we can be assured that the future of our communities and the world will be a bright one.With this in mind, Cassondra encourages anyone with questions or suggestions to reach out to the SERC Library staff so that we can help you meet the needs of your child, classroom, school, company, or district.Cassondra has a Bachelor’s degree in Education and English (015) and is working on completing a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Rutgers University.