May 1, 2023
Leadership journeys: 10 stories to celebrate AAPINH heritage
In celebration of Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian (AAPINH) Heritage Month, we bring you stories of courage, compassion, and resilience. These ten picture books focus on identity, family, the meaning of home, body positivity, and personal triumph—themes that inspire young readers to dream, learn, and explore. While creating this booklist, we wanted to see people like us represented in the stories we read. Our search for the protagonist’s journey from struggle to leadership as a theme added meaning and inspired us to love our rich heritage and value the intergenerational knowledge passed down to us. We have also included personal quotes by the authors on what inspired them to write their books as well as links with more information about their other works. Honoring the theme of 2023 AAPINH heritage month to “Advance Leaders Through Opportunity ” we hope you give these books and the authors the opportunity to touch your heart. We hope you see yourself in the stories represented in the booklist and also hope you find a nugget that is meaningful to you as it was to us.
This booklist was compiled by Rhishti Shrestha and Chris Pineda.
Here are ten books that celebrate AAPINH heritage:
Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn
Mượn Thị Văn’s Wishes, with illustrations by Victo Ngai, tells the story of a Vietnamese girl as she and her family flee their home. While the girl remains silent, objects around her make wishes that seem to echo in the uncertainty of night. Wishes captures the journey of a young refugee and her volatile environment.
“I wanted to write a story where the reader could see and feel the story from the inside—from inside a family of refugees, and from inside the heart of a refugee. The result is Wishes, which is inspired by my family’s own story …
I hope this book will remind every reader of our common humanity. I hope that for young readers, in particular, it will help open that young reader’s heart, a heart which is still full of love and generosity, a heart that is still a stranger to phrases like, “Go back” and “You don’t belong here.”
I hope readers recognize that Wishes is a slice of a much larger story.”
Watch this interview with the author, detailing how her own journey inspired Wishes.
Check out other publications from Mượn Thị Văn on her website.
Our Double Fifth Celebration by Yobe Qiu
Yobe Qiu’s Our Double Fifth Celebration, with illustrations by Altheya Pulvera, describes three holidays that occur on the fifth day of the fifth month: Dragon Boat, Dano, and Children’s Day. Three families, representing Chinese, Korean, and Japanese communities, joyfully discuss these different yet similar holidays.
“If we don’t put up more books for little children to have these really important conversations — because children learn their role through what they see and what they read and what they talk about in schools — and we don’t stock their libraries and we don’t train our teachers to have these conversations about different cultures, different communities, people who have different interests and beliefs and colors, they won’t have the opportunity to even talk about these conversation topics …
By showing kids culture and celebrating inclusion and diversity, they will be better equipped as future leaders of society.”
For more information on the author and her book collection, visit her website.
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand
Shelly Anand’s Laxmi’s Mooch, with illustrations by Nabi H. Ali, is the delightful story of a young, Indian-American girl accepting herself as she is. As Laxmi contends with having a “mooch”—or mustache—her parents respond with messages of love and body positivity, filling her with pride for her heritage.
“The idea for Laxmi’s Mooch came to me in the fall of 2017 when I was on maternity leave with my second child, my daughter Uma. My friend Sonya—a fellow Diaspora Desi raising kids in the South—told me that her six-year-old daughter Sasha had come home upset after a girl at school teased her about her mustache. “Wow, that young?” I was surprised; not because the teasing happened but because of their age.
“What am I going to do?” Sonya wondered. “Take her to get it waxed or threaded? She’s only in Kindergarten!”
My mind flashed to the beginning of my hair removal journey—years of threading, waxing, bleaching. Not just my mooch, but also my arm hair and, of course, my legs. I looked down at Uma and at her little mooch as she slept peacefully in my arms and made a decision right there and then. We have to make it different for them.”
Watch the author talk about Laxmi’s Mooch, and check out her website.
When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling
Michelle Sterling’s When Lola Visits, with illustrations by Aaron Asis, is a feast for the senses. A young Filipina lists her favorite things about summer, which begins when her grandmother arrives in the U.S. for her annual visit. The girl’s Lola brings with her the aromas, delicacies, and music of the Philippines, uniting the family during long summer days. Lola’s influence carries over into the fall season, long after she has already returned home.
“I almost cried tears of joy to see Filipino culture represented in a children’s book. And the words were by me! I was on cloud nine for days! Aaron’s art is like a breeze on a summer afternoon — light and carefree — and at the same time it exudes such a beautiful, tangible warmth. The same warmth that characterizes Filipino culture and ways. Even now, after having looked at the art countless times, I still marvel at just how well he captured the spirit of the story…
When Lola Visits is the book I never had but longed for growing up. I know so many people have said this, but I’ll say it again because I believe it with every fiber in my being — all kids need to see themselves in books. We all need to see each other in the pages of books.”
Watch a read-aloud of When Lola Visits.
Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim
Anna Kim’s Danbi Leads the School Parade won the 2020-2021 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book. Danbi is a kindergartener on her first day of school. A recent immigrant, she only knows how to write her name in Korean. Despite language barriers and cultural misunderstandings, she wins the hearts of her classmates with her bright, witty, and imaginative nature, proving herself a born leader.
“Danbi started out as a ¾” scribble on a piece of napkin. I tend to scribble everywhere, so that was not unusual, but my drawing of this little girl with pigtails kept popping up in my sketchbooks and the yellow stickies on my desk. One night, as I started sketching her in the middle of a classroom, I had a visceral memory of standing bewildered in front of my new class after immigrating from South Korea. I guess that feeling had never left me. This all happened around the time I was looking for picture books for my nieces, hoping to find fun, positive stories featuring Asian American characters. That’s when it hit me. My first story would be of a little immigrant girl’s first day in kindergarten. And that became Danbi Leads the School Parade.”
Check out this read-aloud of the book, and visit Danbi’s website.
How to Solve a Problem by Ashima Shiraishi
Ashima Shiraishi’s How to Solve A Problem, with illustrations by Yao Xiao, is an inspiring autobiography. Shiraishi, a Japanese-American rock-climbing prodigy, was introduced to the sport when she was only 6 years old. Her book paints a picture of determination and resilience as she tells the story of how she solved her biggest problem: climbing Golden Shadow (V14) in Rocklands, South Africa, at the age of 13. At that time she was only the second woman to ever reach the height of V14. Shiraishi reminds us to keep climbing, to keep solving any problem that comes our way.
“Everyone can choose their own different climbs, or they might be trying the same climbs in a different way, but no one is doing the exact same movement. You cheer each other on so everyone is able to climb up to their best, everyone’s individual best way of getting to the top. You want them to succeed in their endeavor…
Finding your soul and being passionate about things is beyond just being excited about it. You’re putting a lot into something. You’re putting your soul into it.”
Check out this NPR interview with the author and illustrator.
The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho
Tina Cho’s The Ocean Calls, with illustrations by Jess X. Snow tells the story of the haenyeo, or women divers, who live on Jeju Island in South Korea. A Korean girl dreams of becoming a haenyeo like her grandmother, who teaches her the traditional trade of underwater harvesting. Freediving into the depths of the ocean without any breathing equipment, she learns the value of courage and perseverance.
“The audience I had in mind was children, of course. Because I have a great relationship with my own grandmother, I wanted to showcase that intergenerational relationship between a haenyeo and her granddaughter. Even though this tradition is dying off in some Korean families, this way of life is still ongoing for others. I want children, even American children, to see that they can learn a tradition from their own grandparents or elderly. So that’s why I chose to write this as a fiction picture book, but in the back matter, include facts about the haenyeo…”
Check out other publications from Tina Cho on her website.
Watch this UNESCO documentary about haenyeo.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis
Ilima Loomis’s ’Ohana Means Family, with illustrations by Kenard Pak, ends where it begins; its circular form reflects the interconnectedness of Hawaiian culture. From the making of poi to the growing of kalo, the taro plant, and back to poi again as it’s served at the family lūʻau, Loomis celebrates the Hawaiian people’s relationship to each other and to their land.
“Poi is the most traditional staple Hawaiian food, and I wanted to write about it for a long time. I grew up eating poi. Like a lot of children in Hawaii, it was one of the first foods that were given to me as a baby. It is hugely important to the people and culture of Hawaii, but I had never seen a book about it…
Growing up here I was familiar with the process of kalo farming and had also reported on Hawaiian water rights as a journalist. This helped inspire the idea of using poi to write about the connection between food, land, water, and people.”
Watch a read-aloud of ‘Ohana Means Family.
Ho’onani, Hula Warrior by Heather Gale
Heather Gale’s Ho’onani, Hula Warrior, with illustrations by Mika Song, is based on the true story of a young girl who hopes to lead an all-boys school performance of a traditional hula chant. As a genderfluid character, Ho’onani stays true to her Hawaiian roots and triumphs despite her obstacles.
“If you can believe it, Ho’onani inspired me to write her story! From the beginning of the documentary, A Place in the Middle, I noticed Ho’onani understood and felt her inner strength and the love and respect within her family felt true and honest. We get a clear sense that Ho’onani knows just who she is, and what she is capable of.
The very next day, I knew this story was extra special and that this had to also become a picture book. That’s when I reached out to the producers.
Here was me, an unknown in the industry, asking to write a picture book version of a documentary that was winning awards around the world!”
Check out A Place in the Middle, the documentary that inspired this book.
Read this book spotlight of Ho’onani, Hula Warrior.
Patience, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez
Roxane Marie Galliez’s Patience, Miyuki, with illustrations by Seng Soun Ratanavanh, follows an energetic girl’s journey to collect the purest form of water for a sleepy flower. Eager to start her mission, she’s unwilling to wait for the flower to bloom on its own. Hers is a magical experience with nature, the spring season, and an origami swan. Award-winning Galliez masterfully plays with intergenerational teachings to highlight the importance of patience.
To explore Ratanavanh’s beautiful illustrations, check out this book review.