Picture Books Featuring Asian Characters

Celebrate Asia and Asian culture with these books featuring Asian characters.

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Picture Books Featuring Asian Characters

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

Amy loves to eat bao and wants to make it just as well as the members of her family can. But her bao keeps turning out lopsided, broken, or just plain wrong. Sometimes, it takes help from others and a lot of practice to learn how to do something new!

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

A Chinese-American girl sees the gardens of her neighbors full of bright and colorful flowers. She longs to have a garden just like theirs, but instead her mother plants bumpy, ugly vegetables. Her mother tells her to wait because the “ugly vegetables” are better than flowers, but the girl isn’t sure she believes her. That is, until harvest time comes and those vegetables turn into a delicious soup that smells so good it brings the neighbors over. 

Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin

A great way to introduce the history of fortune cookies and their integral part in Chinese culture. Mei Mei discovers that her fortunes, as told by the cookies, are really coming true!

Pan de Sal Saves the Day by Norma Olizaon-Chikiamco

Pan de Sal doesn’t feel like the best or brightest at anything. In fact, she finds herself ugly, shy, and strange. It’s only when her classmates need her and she steps up to the challenge that Pan de Sal realizes that she has within her everything she needs to achieve her dreams.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

The Japanese internment camps are an incredibly shameful time in American history, but unfortunately there are few resources about it. Baseball Saved Us is inspired by true events and is the story of how a young boy uses baseball to gain courage, self-respect, and dignity.

Champion figure-skater Kristi Yamaguchi tells her story in this captivating picture book. Young readers will love learning about the journey and also be inspired by her famous line, “Always dream.”
Yoko loves packing her favorite lunch of sushi before school each morning, but begins to feel embarrassed when her classmates make fun of her meal. Through some conversations with her mother, Yoko learns to embrace and appreciate all things about her Japanese heritage, including the delicious sushi!

A young boy whose family has just moved to America from Korea finds comfort and a reminder of home in a stately plum tree that stands tall in the backyard. When a fierce storm sends Plumee crashing to the ground, the boy learns a valuable lesson about holding on to precious memories while also appreciating new beginnings. 

Drawn Together by Minh Le

When a boy goes to visit his grandpa, the two sit in silent frustration. It seems like they have no way to communicate with each other since they both speak different languages. But when the two begin to draw together, something magical happens as drawing becomes a way of speaking without words. 

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park

This light and fun rhyming story is about a hungry girl assisting her mother with the preparations for a meal of delicious bee-bim bop. Together they purchase things at the market, gather the ingredients, cook them all up, and sit down for a family dinner.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom by Dia Cha 

Dia’s aunt and uncle created a story cloth to help them remember their journey as refugees leaving China and fleeing to a camp in Thailand in the 1950s. Forced to leave everything behind after their city was invaded and bombed by communist forces, Dia’s relatives remain true to their heritage, even while being pushed from place to place. The story cloth helps Dia remember that the spirit of her people, the Hmong (which means “free people”), cannot be broken.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

Little Star can’t seem to get enough of the soft, sweet mooncake her mother bakes. Problem is, her mother has given her strict instructions not to eat the cake just yet. Little Star can’t quite resist just a small bite–surely no one will notice–right?

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Cole

A young girl begins to notice that her eyes are different than those of her classmates and friends. While their eyes are big and round, hers seem to kiss in the corners. As she learns to appreciate her heritage and uniqueness, she also learns to love her eyes that “glow like warm tea…and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.”  This one has such beautiful illustrations!

Sorghaghtani of Mongolia by Shirin Yin Bridges 

Princess of Mongolia, Sorghahgtani, knew how to wield her influence for the prosperity of the people. She united a nation torn apart by war, brought profit back to a failing society, and ensured that her family line would continue to reign even after her death.  

Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

Yazul’s family disapproves of his kite-making skills, but he has a real talent for it. His father, a Silk Road trader, doesn’t see the purpose in kite-making at all, that is, until it is up to Yazul and his kites to save the day from bandits. 

Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki 

Chiune Sugihara is a Japanese diplomat living in Lithuania during WWII. Everywhere around him, Jews are being rounded up and herded into train cars like animals to be sent to work camps. The Japanese government rejects Chiune’s plan to help them, but at the inspiration of his young son, this brave ambassador decides to do what he can, no matter the cost.

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Jiang Hong Chen

A young Chinese boy grows up and develops a talent of painting horses that is unmatched across the country. When a warrior comes to the boy and asks him for a horse, the boy paints one that gallops off of the canvas and rides bravely into battle with the warrior sitting astride him. Together the two face many battles bravely, until the horse suddenly disappears. 

Yunmi and Halmoni’s Trip by Sook Nyul Choi and Karen Dugan

Yunmi’s grandmother Halmoni is taking her on a plane across the ocean to be in Korea for her husband’s birthday, who died some time back. Halmoni fits right back in to her old homeland, but Yunmi struggles with the strange culture, family members, and sights around Seoul. She begins to wonder if Halmoni will want to remain in Korea forever.

Grandfather’s Dream by Holly Keller 

In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, a village is working to rebuild and move on. Nam and her grandfather are hopeful that the construction of new dikes will rejuvenate the wetlands and bring the majestic cranes back to the city. The other villagers want to use the water towards their rice crops, but Nam still hopefully watches for the return of the beautiful birds.

Donut Dreams: Family Recipe by Coco Simon

When Molly is assigned a family tree project at her school, she wonders how she will complete the project. After all, Molly is adopted. Where does she fit in the family tree? And should she also include her biological family?

Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

While stationed overseas during WWII, a scared teenager from Kentucky meets a little girl who gently tends to his bug bites. The two form a bond as Tucky Jo endears himself to her family and begins to share his rations with them. This heartwarming tale about their unlikely friendship is based on a true story. This book is so sweet and one of my favorites from Polacco.

Alvin, a Chinese-American in the second grade, sometimes feels trapped by his anxiety. His many phobias can keep him from making friends, riding the elevator, speaking out in class, and more. As he grows in confidence, Alvin learns to love himself and overcome his fears, one step at a time.

Moon Bear by Gill Lewis 

Tam suddenly finds himself the man of the house when his father is killed. To make money to support his family, he signs up to work at a bear farm. Tam soon realizes that the conditions the bears are subjected to are horrific, and he desperately wants to create change for them. However, making waves could threaten his job, and Tam’s family really needs the money. An inspiring story about one boy’s integrity and determination to stand up for what’s right. 

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say 

Based on a trip taken by the author’s grandfather, Grandfather’s Journey tells the story of one man who grew up in Japan and still holds a great love for that country in his heart. Now living in the United States, the grandfather wonders how to balance his love for the new country with that of his homeland. 

The Empty Pot by Demi

A young boy named Ping had a reputation for being able to grow flowers just about anywhere. Wherever he tossed a few seeds, gorgeous blooms would soon appear. The Emperor, who also loved flowers, passed out a single seed to each child in the kingdom, promising that whoever could cultivate the best flower in a year’s time would inherit his throne. Ping plants his seed in a pot, but for the first time, nothing grows. As spring arrives, Ping must bring his empty container to the Emperor. This is one of my FAVORITE character-building picture books.

Watercress by Andrea Wang

A young Chinese girl and her family stop by the side of the road. She is embarrassed – why can’t her family get food from the grocery store like a normal family? In the end, she learns to appreciate the watercress and what it means for her family. This story was inspired by the author’s experiences. It has beautiful illustrations, but I did have to read it twice to fully appreciate the beginning. Still, it’s a beautiful story and is an excellent resource for books about Chinese immigrants, immigrants, and Asian culture.

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park 

Sang-hee’s father is one of the king’s firekeepers in 1800s Korea. It is his job to light a signal fire on the mountaintop each night to assure the king that all is well. One night, Sang-hee’s father is unable to light the fire, and keeping the peace of the kingdom falls to the small Sang-hee. 

The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang

As Hmong refugees, the author’s family experienced financial and material hardship in their flight from Vietnam and resettlement in the United States. Here, Kao Kalia Yang tells a story from her childhood in which her grandmother helped her appreciate her smile and the legacy it represents. 

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