Lately, the world has been hard to navigate due to growing anxieties. There have been two things causing this stress and infecting our society: the Coronavirus itself and the racism that followed. 

In 2019, the coronavirus was introduced into our human population. It is a “large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases” (World Health Organization). In 2020, the United States started to experience this pandemic, which has resulted in school closures, prescribed social distancing, and restaurants and shops shutting down.

While there have been amazing stories of empathy during this time, there have also been intense cases of racism caused by the coronavirus hysteria. Many people have targeted Asian-American people and communities in our country out of displaced blame for the disease. Chinatowns and Asian businesses saw less and less customers even before the prescribed social distancing. Asian-American students were victims of streotyping and racist threats at school before the closures. Our own US President even dubbed the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” in a public tweet and a press conference, which has furthered fueled the racism against our Asian communities.

It is our job as educators, librarians, and family members to make sure that our children, and even other adults, are not feeding into this racist panic. We can do this by having conversations based in fact about the coronavirus, discussing racism and how to be good allies, and pointing out the racism in responses to the coronavirus that target our Asian communities. Another way to counter the racism happening is to provide counter-narratives about the community that is being harmed. This is why I LOVE diverse books, especially ones by people from the communities they represent. Diverse books are able to develop cross cultural empathy and cultural empowerment in our students page-by-page. 

So, throughout these next few weeks, consider reading all or some of these 10 Books Featuring Asian Characters. Each was written by an Asian author and each has positive images of the Asian community that will help you counteract the racist images coming from around our nation. 

Picture Books

Bringing in the New Year, by Grace Lin

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 3+

Grace Lin is one of my favorite picture book authors and it was very hard to include only one of her books. Bringing in the New Year is one of her best books though! It is about family members doing different things to get ready for Lunar New Year. 

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems, by Kam Mak

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years

I stumbled upon this picture book while shopping at our local Asian Pacific Islander Heritage museum. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems captures a young boy’s first year in the United States through poems and illustrations. It specifically showcases the strength of the Chinatown community.

We Are Inspiring: The Stories of 32 Inspirational Asian American Women, by Angel Trazo

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Biography

Age Range: 6-8 years

Angel Trazo wrote this book after seeing the lack of literature representing Asian Americans! We Are Inspiring shares the stories of 32 Asian-American women and what they did in our world. I loved the diversity in the Asian-American women she included in this book. Trazo definitely paid attention to acknowledging the wide-breadth of identities in the Asian-American community!

Drawn Together, by Minh Lê

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years

Drawn Together is a visual masterpiece that almost had me in tears when I first read it. The picture book, almost like a graphic novel, is about a little boy and his grandpa, who do not speak the same language and begin to feel frustrated in their lack of communication and similarities. However, they find out that they can communicate through art, a passion they both share!

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, by Kat Zhang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years

As a fellow Bao-lover, this book was not only relatable, but also hilarious! In this picture book, Amy Wu is trying to make the perfect bao and she feels like she is never as good as her family members. However, Amy keeps trying and trying along with her cute cat sidekick!

Early Chapter & Middle Grade Books

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business, by Lyla Lee

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration & Representation

Age Range: 6-9 years

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business is the first book in the Mindy Kim series! It is an early chapter book about Mindy transitioning to a new school and starting a business with her friends where they sell seaweed snacks. Diverse early chapter books are always really hard to find, so I was very appreciative of Mindy Kim!

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, by Susan Tan

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration & Representation

Age Range: 8-12 years

Susan Tan authored this book, which is about Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a biracial girl who identifies as Chinese and White. Cilla writes to the audience about how she wants to become a best-selling author before her baby sister is born. She decides to write about her life, which includes exploring her biracial identity.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation; Some Exploration

Age Range: 8-12 years

Front Desk is about Mia Tang, a ten-year old front desk manager at the Calivista Motel. Mia and her family recently moved to the United States from China and they all work in the motel. This middle grade chapter book explores the stories behind immigrants through Mia’s family and their experiences of trying to hide immigrants in the motel. 

Young Adult Lit Books

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: Young Adult +

American Born Chinese  is a deep, page-turning young adult graphic novel! It engages in the most relatable human dilemma: the need to fit in. Gene Luen Yang manages to tell three storylines: Jin Wang who starts at a new school and struggles when a boy from Taiwan joins too; Danny who is an all-American boy visited by his obnoxious Chinese cousin; and the Monkey King who is trying to find his place in heaven. 

This Time Will Be Different, by Misa Sugiura

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: Young Adult +

Misa Sugiura has written some really conversational novels, including This Time Will Be Different. In this young adult novel, CJ Katsuyama, a Japanese-American teenager, helps out at her family’s flower shop until her mother decides to sell it to a family who made money from the Internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s. Any reader of this book will grow as they see CJ navigate racism, homophobia, intergenerational trauma, and family conflict.

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