13 Books for Kids That Celebrate Asian Cultures

Even though I grew up eating kimchi and saying ko-map-sup-ni-da, the only “Asian” book I read as a child was Tikki Tikki Tembo. It was a favorite of mine, but looking back, I’m not sure that I learned much about Asian cultures. People even argue whether the folktale is Chinese or Japanese.

My two kids also love the breathless tongue twister of Tikki’s full name. But I’m happy to report that thirty-some years later, there are some truly great books about the various Asian cultures — almost all with a focus on family and food. (But mostly food.)

no no Beginner Books 9780440417705 Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin

If you believe, as I do, that culture begins and ends in the stomach, you’ll know why nothing is more comforting to me than dim sum, a traditional Chinese meal made up of small plates of dumplings and other snack dishes and is usually accompanied by tea. This book features the à la carte yumminess that is the Chinese dim sum tradition and highlights a key Asian cultural tradition — eating together.

9780142300176 Dear Juno by Soyung Park, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung

I was an English-speaking toddler cared for by a grandmother who spoke only Korean, so I know well how two people who love each other can surpass whatever intergenerational, cross-cultural hurdles there may be to communicate. Juno’s grandmother writes in Korean; Juno sends pictures — and they understand each other just fine.

9780440417996 The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

My daughter is only one-quarter Korean, but we share the same Korean middle name, and there’s something about the plight of little Unhei, the new Korean-from-Korea kid in class, that speaks to her. Unhei is so shy about people pronouncing her names that she claims she doesn’t yet have one. As her fellow classmates fill a name jar with ideas, Unhei comes to embrace what’s uniquely hers.

9780823449774 Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang

There’s nothing quite like New York City’s Chinatown — and this picture book transports you there, in all its technicolor glory. Says Publishers Weekly, “the subdued landscape [of the drab New York City neighborhood the young girl’s family has emigrated to from China] gives way to vivid hues as the two shop amid a kaleidoscope of fruits, vegetables, seafood, and sweets.” The result is “achingly real.”

9781774881989 Dim Sum Palace by X. Fang

For anyone (like me!) who loved Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen (1970), Dim Sum Palace is an adorable, AAPI-inspired homage. Kirkus calls it “a real (delicious) trip.” And just about everyone agrees. Fang’s book earned the 2023 Society of Illustrators’ Dilys Evans Founder’s Award and was named one of Brightly‘s Best Picture Books of 2023 and one of Chicago Public Library’s Best Board & Picture Books for the same year.

9781536219401 Masala Chai, Fast and Slow by Rajani LaRocca

Another food-focused trip, through India this time. Traditions — like afternoon chai — are what bond us to our families and our culture. And that is the case in Newbery Honoree Rajani LaRocca’s latest picture book. This is a story of a boy and his grandfather, but there are deeper lessons about mindfulness and the power of taking your time. Recipe included.

9781536226140 Sari-Sari Summers by Lynnor Bontigao

Kirkus calls Lynnor Bontigao’s sweet love-letter to the Phillipines and to Filipina grandmothers, “like a sari-sari store, brimming with joy and heart.”

9780593531723 Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng

One of my great joys, when it comes to Asian culture, is the night market — full of delicious street food and one-of-a-kind delights. Charlotte Cheng’s book may be about a stray dog, Gogo, but what’s wonderful is the setting: a richly imagined Taipei night market. Publishers Weekly calls it, “a lively readaloud about finding one’s way home.”

9780593425459 Everyone Loves Career Day but Zia by Jenny Liao

From the author of Everyone Loves Lunchtime but Zia, where young Zia comes to terms with eating her traditional Cantonese lunches in an American school cafeteria, this book tackles another common Chinese-American experience — translating for an immigrant parent. On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Liao says, “This story celebrates the beauty of embracing your first language, even if you live and learn through a second one.”

9780593529874 I Want to Be Spaghetti! by Kiera Wright-Ruiz

A children’s book about ramen that wishes it was spaghetti — until it learns to love all the wonderful, ramen-y things about itself? Sign me up! This well-loved book — an Amazon Best Book of the Month, winner of Good Housekeeping’s 2023 Kids’ Book Award and one of Brightly’s Best Picture Books of 2023 — teaches us all how to love what is unique about us.

9780593488614 My Grandfather’s Song by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

The married authors of My First Day, selected as best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal, revisit the rich landscapes of Southeast Asia with My Grandfather’s Song, a lyrical tribute to the first settlers of South Vietnam, as told through the story of one boy and his grandfather.

9780593649466 Lunar New Year by Mary Man-Kong

A sweet addition to any child’s Golden Book library, Lunar New Year teaches young readers about the Chinese zodiac, the celebratory food and the Asian traditions that arrive each lunar new year — one of the most important holidays in China and other Asian countries.

9780593324608 My Paati’s Saris by Jyoti Rajan Gopal

In this sweet, modern children’s book about a child and their grandmother, every sari has a tale — including the sari that the child in this story eventually chooses. Winner of awards from School & Library Journal and the New York Public Library, My Paati’s Saris manages to embrace traditions and the here-and-now at the same time. Says Kirkus, “Many readers will be especially heartened to see a tale of LGBTQ+ identity — and acceptance — in a South Asian setting.”

So, clearly, this list doesn’t quite cover all things Asian. There are countries we didn’t cover — and cuisines!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2024.

The post 13 Books for Kids That Celebrate <br>Asian Cultures appeared first on Brightly.

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