One of my favorite things to do with my own daughters, my nephews, and other little people in my life, is read aloud. As a children’s book author and a mama, reading aloud is a special way to share a book with others. I have my own collection of picture books in my library, but in recent years, I’ve fallen in love with chapter books and middle grade books all over. My youngest daughter, who is 10, loves to read aloud to me at night before bed. We have been exploring chapter books that are written by and feature Asian American main characters. We thought we’d share our recommendations with you. Our list includes chapter books for all different ages and reading levels!
10. Mindy Kim and the Birthday Puppy
All Mindy Kim has ever wanted is a puppy of her very own. After all, having all the toy dog plushies in the world isn’t quite the same thing as a real one! She wants a dog to take on walks, teach tricks, and cuddle with. She knows she has what it takes to be the perfect pet owner, and she thinks a dog would be a perfect gift for her upcoming birthday.
But her dad isn’t so sure she’s ready for the big responsibility. Can Mindy prove to her dad that she can handle a new addition to the Kim household? We loved this whole series of books about Mindy Kim. They are lighthearted and fun, incorporating Korean American culture in a natural way. My daughter loves the puppy in this book!
9. Three Keys
The story of Mia and her family and friends at the Calivista Motel continues in this powerful, hilarious, and resonant sequel to the award-winning novel Front Desk.Mia Tang thinks she’s going to have the best year ever. She and her parents are the proud owners of the Calivista Motel, Mia gets to run the front desk with her best friend, Lupe, and she’s finally getting somewhere with her writing!
But as it turns out, sixth grade is no picnic…1. Mia’s new teacher doesn’t think her writing is all that great. And her entire class finds out she lives and works in a motel 2. The motel is struggling, and Mia has to answer to the Calivista’s many, many worried investors.3. A new immigration law is looming and if it passes, it will threaten everything — and everyone — in Mia’s life. It’s a roller coaster of challenges, and Mia needs all of her determination to hang on tight. But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, it’s Mia Tang!
This book invites us into the complexity of immigration but in a way that is accessible to kids. My daughter loved the friendships and mix of cultures featured in this book.
8. American as Paneer Pie
As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.
When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.
To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.
When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late. This book invites readers into some relatable themes for kids of all backgrounds while also giving readers a window into the world of an Indian-American girl.
7. Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, Hawaii, 1889 Ellen Emerson White
After being forcibly annexed by the U.S., the Hawaiian people turn to the young Princess Kaiulani in the hopes that their toppled monarchy can be restored. This book is the princess’ diary that gives us a glimpse into both history and her personal experiences.
We loved this historical biography written in the first person. My daughter liked the concept of reading Kaiulani’s diary. We appreciated how the book invites us into her grief journey.
6. Any Day with You
Kaia and her family live near the beach in California, where the fun of moviemaking is all around them. Kaia loves playing with makeup and creating special effects, turning her friends into merfolk and other magical creatures.
This summer, Kaia and her friends are part of a creative arts camp, where they’re working on a short movie to enter in a contest. The movie is inspired by the Filipino folktales that her beloved Tatang, her great-grandfather, tells. Tatang lives with her family and is like the sparkle of her special-effects makeup. When Tatang decides that it is time to return to his homeland in the Philippines, Kaia will do anything to convince him not to go.
We loved the way the kids are into film. We could relate to Kaia and her Filipino-American family. We especially loved the depiction of her relationship with her grandpa.
5. The Real Z
Meet Z Yang! She’s an aspiring filmmaker who finds her focus sharing her unique take on the world! And action! Z knows what she’s doing when it comes to making movies. She’s an expert at stop-motion video. In this first book about the aspiring filmmaker, Z has to make a whole new kind of movie–a documentary–and it’s harder than she thought.
Z wants to wow the judges, but she’s not sure her ideas are good enough for a film festival. With the help of her friends, Z shoots a lot of footage, but something about it doesn’t feel right. Should she start over? As she tries to make a movie she can be proud of, Z discovers that to be a real filmmaker, she’ll first have to be her real self.
My daughter benefited from seeing the way Z juggled her love for film and friend challenges. Very sweet and relatable book, featuring a Chinese-American main character.
4. Asian American Women in Science: An Asian American History Book for Kids
Kazue Togasaki was one of the first Japanese American women to become a doctor. Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American physicist who worked on top-secret projects. Isabella Aiona Abbott became an expert on the marine plant life of her native Hawaii. Asian American women are a huge part of scientific discovery, and this collection of biographies for kids explores 15 brilliant women, and how they used their intelligence and determination to overcome challenges and succeed.
This new non-fiction book by Tina Cho is a breath of fresh air, making the lives of these Asian American heroines come alive. We also loved the illustrations that accompany the stories.
3. Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story
Pegi Deitz Shea
For the Hmong people living in overcrowded refugee camps in Thailand, America is a dream: the land of peace and plenty. In 1995, ten years after their arrival at the camp, thirteen-year-old Mai Yang and her grandmother are about to experience that dream. In America, they will be reunited with their only remaining relatives, Mai’s uncle and his family. They will discover the privileges of their new life: medical care, abundant food, and an apartment all their own. But Mai will also feel the pressures of life as a teenager.
Her cousins, now known as Heather and Lisa, try to help Mai look less like a refugee, but following them means disobeying Grandma and Uncle. From showers and smoke alarms to shopping, dating, and her family’s new religion, Mai finds life in America complicated and confusing. Ultimately, she will have to reconcile the old ways with the new, and decide for herself the kind of woman she wants to be. This archetypal immigrant story introduces readers to the fascinating Hmong culture and offers a unique outsider’s perspective on our own.
I read this book aloud with my older daughter and learned so much about the history and everyday challenges of the Hmong people. The writing and details in this book take us right into the story.
2. Mindy Kim and the Lunar New Year Parade Lyla Lee
Mindy is excited to celebrate the Lunar New Year! Even though it’s the first one without her mom, Mindy is determined to enjoy the day. She decides to make traditional Korean New Year food, a rice cake soup that’s her favorite. But things aren’t going quite to plan, and the celebration doesn’t feel the same as it did before.
With the help of her family and friends, can Mindy find a way to still enjoy her old holiday traditions, and create new ones along the way?
This was one of our favorite books in the series because we loved the focus on Lunar New Year. We love the way Lyla Lee celebrates the food, clothing, and traditions through this contemporary story.
1. Corinne Wendy Shang
Get to know American Girl’s 2022 Girl of the Year, Corinne Tan, in this first book in her series! When the powder’s fresh, Corinne snaps on her skis and takes a deep breath of crisp mountain air. She and her sister, Gwynn, have always called Aspen home, but moving in with their new stepdad, Arne, changes everything. Sure, there are perks — like a fancy bedroom and a new puppy named Flurry whom Corinne trains to do search and rescue. Still, Corinne feels uncomfortable in her new family and hides the truth from her best friend, Cassidy. The facts finally come out in the most disastrous way, and Corinne runs to the only place left that feels like home. But when she becomes lost on the mountain, will her survival skills be enough to save her?
We have read many books in the American Girl Doll series. My daughter loved the sister dynamic in this story. We appreciated watching how the girls navigate life with their mom’s new husband.