This list of Read in Color recommended reads explores experiences from the Asian American/Pacific Islander community. These titles are recommended by Little Free Library’s Diverse Books Advisory Group and others. The list of books includes options for early readers, middle and YA readers, and adults and advanced readers.
View all of the Read in Color Recommended Reading lists. These lists are far from exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for exploring different perspectives. We recognize that categorizing books can be limiting and are working to show the intersectionality within our reading lists.
Asian American/Pacific Islander (Early Readers)
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Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (40 pp, Alladin, 2019). Amy loves to make bao with her family. But it takes skill to make the bao taste and look delicious. And her bao keep coming out all wrong. Then she has an idea that may give her a second chance…. Will Amy ever make the perfect bao? Ages 4-8.
Asian Americans Who Inspire Us
Asian Americans Who Inspire Us by Analiza Quiroz Wolf (100 pp, 2019). Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us shares engaging stories of 16 trailblazing Asian-Americans. The stories bring to life Vietnam Memorial architect Maya Lin, Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, musician Yo-Yo Ma, astronaut Ellison Onizuka, anchorwoman Lisa Ling, activists Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, and more! Ages 8 and up.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (40 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). Little Star loves the delicious Mooncake that she bakes with her mama. But she’s not supposed to eat any yet! What happens when she can’t resist a nibble? In this stunning picture book that shines as bright as the stars in the sky, Newbery Honor author Grace Lin creates a heartwarming original story that explains phases of the moon. Ages 4-8.
Bilal Cooks Dal
Bilal Cooks Dal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed (40 pp, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019). Six-year-old Bilal introduces his friends to his favorite dish—daal!—in this charming picture book that showcases the value of patience, teamwork, community, and sharing. Ages 4-8.
Cora Cooks Pancit
Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant (32 pp, Lee & Low Books, 2014). Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish. Ages 5-7.
A Different Pond
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (32 pp, Capstone, 2017). A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event—a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son—and between cultures, old and new. Ages 6-8.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat (40 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens—with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words. Ages 4-8.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho (40 pp, HarperCollins, 2021). A young Asian girl notices that 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. Ages 2-8.
Hot Pot Night!
Hot Pot Night! by Vincent Chen (40 pp, Charlesbridge, 2020). What’s for dinner? A Taiwanese American child brings his diverse neighbors together to make a tasty communal meal. Together, they cook up a steaming family dinner that celebrates community, cooperation, and culture. Includes a family recipe for hot pot! Ages 3-7.
I Dream of Popo
I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo (40 pp, Roaring Brook Press, 2021). 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. Ages 2-7.
The Most Beautiful Thing
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le (32 pp, Carolrhoda Books, 2020). Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States. Ages 5-9.
The Name Jar
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (40 pp, Dragonfly Books, 2003). Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Ages 3-7.
Ohana Means Family
Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (40 pp, Neal Porter Books, 2020). Join the family, or ohana, as they farm taro for poi to prepare for a traditional luau celebration with a poetic text in the style of The House That Jack Built. Acclaimed illustrator and animator Kenard Pak’s light-filled, dramatic illustrations pair exquisitely with Ilima Loomis’ text to celebrate Hawaiian land and culture. The backmatter includes a glossary of Hawaiian terms used, as well as an author’s note. Ages 4-8.
A Piece of Home
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (32 pp, Candlewick, 2016). When Hee Jun’s family moves from Korea to West Virginia, he struggles to adjust to his new home. A child-friendly story about the trials and triumphs of starting over in a new place while keeping family and traditions close. Ages 5-8.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (32 pp, Neal Porter Books, 2021). Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can. At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress. Ages 4-8.
A Piece of Home by Múón Thi Vãn, illustrated by Victo Ngai (40 pp, Orchard Books, 2021). Wishes tells the powerful, honest story about one Vietnamese family’s search for a new home on the other side of the world, and the long-lasting and powerful impact that makes on the littlest member of the family. Inspired by actual events in the author’s life, this is a narrative that is both timely and timeless. Ages 4-8.
Asian American/Pacific Islander (Middle Readers)
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Almost American Girl
Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha (240 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2020). For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together. So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother. Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined. Ages 13-17.
The Astonishing Color of After
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (480 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019). Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. Ages 12 and up.
The Boys in the Back Row
The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung (272 pp, Levine Querido, 2020). Best friends Matt and Eric are hatching a plan for one big final adventure together before Eric moves away: during the marching band competition at a Giant Amusement Park, they will sneak away to a nearby comics convention and meet their idol-a famous comic creator. Without cell phones. Or transportation. Or permission. Of course, their final adventure together is more than just that-really, it’s a way for the boys to celebrate their friendship, and their honest love and support for one another. That’s exactly what we love so much about The Boys in the Back Row: it’s an unabashed ode to male friendship, because love between boys, platonic or otherwise, is something to celebrate. Ages 8-12.
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lai (304 pp, HarperCollins, 2019). In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country. Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her. Ages 13 and up.
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan (272 pp, Square Fish, 2018). Cilla Lee-Jenkins is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian, and 100% destined for literary greatness! In this middle grade novel, she shares stories about a new sibling, being biracial, and her destiny as a future author extraordinaire. Ages 8-12.
Count Me In
Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj (192 pp, Puffin Books, 2020). An uplifting story, told through the alternating voices of two middle-schoolers, in which a community rallies to reject racism. Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door–after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens—the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Ages 10-12.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (320 pp, Arthur A. Levine, 2019). Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams? Ages 9-11.
The Marvelous Mirza Girls
The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim (400 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2021). To cure her post-senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen decides to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back. In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With the help of Kabir—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen discovers new meanings for home. But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complex questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love? Ages 13-17.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (320 pp, Puffin Books, 2021). One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian. On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage. Ages 9-12.
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar (448 pp, HarperTeen, 2020). The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago. This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy. Ages 13-17.
Stargazing by Jen Wang (224 pp, First Second, 2019). Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known. Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope. Ages 8-12.
They Called Us Enemy
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (208 pp, Top Shelf Productions, 2019). A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love. Ages 12-17.
We Are Not Free
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (400 pp, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020). From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II. Ages 12 and up.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (278 pp, HMH, 2019). In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer. Ages 8-12.
You Bring the Distant Near
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (320 pp, Square Fish, 2019). This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture—for better or worse. From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity. Ages 12-18.
Asian American/Pacific Islander (Adult Readers)
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America Is Not the Heart
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo (432 pp, Penguin Books, 2019). How many lives fit in a lifetime? When Hero De Vera arrives in America—haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents—she’s already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter—the first American-born daughter in the family—can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands. An increasingly relevant story told with startling lucidity, humor, and an uncanny ear for the intimacies and shorthand of family ritual, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.
Everything I Never Told You
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (297 pp, Penguin Books, 2015). “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
Girls Burn Brighter
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (416 pp, Flatiron Books, 2019). Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.
Go Home! by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (320 pp, The Feminist Press, 2018). Asian diasporic writers imagine “home” in the twenty-first century through an array of fiction, memoir, and poetry. Both urgent and meditative, this anthology moves beyond the model-minority myth and showcases the singular intimacies of individuals figuring out what it means to belong.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (368 pp, One World, 2020). Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love. Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation—and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions.
The Last Story of Mina Lee
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim (384 pp, Park Row, 2020). Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother. Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang (312 pp, Coffee House Press, 2017). In the 70s and 80s, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to the United States, all in search of a new place to call home. Decades later, their experiences remain largely unknown. Kao Kalia Yang was driven to tell her own family’s story after her grandmother’s death. The Latehomecomer is a tribute to that grandmother, a remarkable woman whose spirit held her family together through their imprisonment in Laos, their narrow escape into Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, their immigration to St. Paul when Yang was only six years old, and their transition to life in America.
Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (368 pp, Penguin Books, 2019). In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson. Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong (224 pp, One World, 2020). Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (336 pp, Mariner Books, 2019). Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world—conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (512 pp, Grand Central Publishing, 2017). In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant—and that her lover is married—she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (384 pp, Grove Press, 2016). With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.