As a Native Hawaiian Wahine, it is incredibly important to me that our keiki (children) are taught the history of my community and other Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. There is so much joy and brilliance from our communities along with harm and sadness that we have faced. Both must be brought to the surface of the conversations in our schools, libraries, and homes. 

This month I am doing an AAPI Studies Series for Colorful Pages. My hope is to release a plethora of resources for educators, families, and librarians to ensure that our history and heritage is taught. 

In this booklist, I share 15 books about AAPI Leaders for elementary students, consisting of mostly picture books! Each book is written or co-written by an AAPI author because we must center AAPI voices while teaching our heritage and history. I have organized this list into two categories: (1) Books Featuring Multiple AAPI Leaders, and (2) Books Featuring a Specific AAPI Leader. 

Use these books to teach about amazing heroes and leaders from our communities! In my own classroom, we are studying about 3-4 AAPI Leaders per week and using graphic organizers to capture what we learned. I am hoping to post a lesson plan and materials later this month. 

Books Featuring Multiple AAPI Leaders

Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us, by Analiza Quiroz Wolf

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Chapter

Age Range: 4+ years old

Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us is a picture book that tells the story of 16 Asian-Americans who are trailblazers in history. Each chapter features the biography of a hero accompanied by beautiful illustrations of their life. I used this eBook to read to my students so they can learn about important Asian-Americans for AAPI Heritage Month!

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!

Asian Pacific American Heroes, by Mia Wenjen

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Chapter

Age Range: 3-6 years old

Written by Mia Wenjen, an amazing #OwnVoices author, Asian Pacific American Heroes introduces readers to 18 different leaders who identify as Asian Pacific American. It is illustrated with real-life photos. Asian Pacific American Heroes includes leaders like: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chloe Kim, and Bruno Mars. This would be a fun read because it also includes leaders that children would be familiar with. 

Changing the Game: Asian Pacific American Female Athletes, by Mia Wenjen

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Dependent on the Chapter

Age Range: 8+ years old

This is another picture book written by Mia Wenjen about AAPI Heroes! Changing the Game shares the biographies of 18 amazing women who excelled in their sport and overcame obstacles in their way. It includes biographies of: Eun Jung “EJ” Lee Ok , Chloe Kim, Miki Gorman, Victoria Manalo Draves, Evelyn Tokue Kawamoto-Konno, Julie Chu, Natasha “Tasha” Kai, Michelle Wie, Kristi Yamaguchi, Amy Chow,  Anona Naone Napoleon, Michelle Waterson, Liane Lissa Sato, Catherine Mai-Lan Fox, Megan Khang, Mohini Bhardwaj, and  Naomi Osaka. I really appreciate how Mia includes AAPI leaders from Pacific Islander communities and Southeast Asian communities, which often get left out unfortunately. The only thing to note about this book is that it JUST came out in May 2021 so shipping and distribution may be delayed (but you could still get it for the remainder of this year plus being prepared for next year). 

Books Featuring a Specific AAPI Leader

The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee, by Julie Leung

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Julie Leung has written a couple beautiful picture book biographies of AAPI heroes from history. The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee tells about the life of Hazel Ying Lee, the first Chinese American woman to fly for the US military. It shares about her strength and bravery as well as the obstacles she had to overcome to achieve her dream. 

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon, by Simran Jeet Singh

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Fauja Singh Keeps Going is the true story of Fauja Singh. Fauja Singh was the oldest person to run a marathon. It shares Fauja Singh’s determination to reach his goal and about his childhood in Punjab. I love the positive representation of the Sikh community in this picture book too! 

Kohala Kuamoʻo: Naeʻole’s Race to Save the King, by Kekauleleanaeʻole Kawaiʻaeʻa [Bilingual Picture Book]

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Between Representation and Exploration

Age Range: 6-10 years old

Kohala Kuamo’o: Nae’ole’s Race to Save the King is a picture book that tells the story of Nae’ole racing across the Kohala district of the Hawai’i island to bring infant Kamehameha to safety. My little brother actually gave me this picture book for Christmas because it represents our Native Hawaiian culture and is bilingual (it has ‘Olelo Hawai’i on one side and English on the other). 

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Shining Star is the picture book biography of Anna May Wong. Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star. In the book, Anna May Wong grew up wanting to be a movie star after seeing movies and being entranced by its adventure and excitement. However, in the 1930s, Anna May Wong experienced extreme discrimination and a lot of the roles offered to Asian Americans were stereotypical. She achieved her dream though as well as tried to search for more purposeful roles for her fellow Asian American actors. 

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist, by Julie Leung

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years

Paper Son is the biography of Tryus Wong, who immigrated to America from China. Tyrus Wong eventually became an animator for Disney’s Bambi. The illustrations of Chris Sasaki in this picture book are absolutely breathtaking. I love that students will be drawn into the story because of Wong’s work on a Disney movie and then get to experience the story of a great Asian-American artist! It also provides a great way for students to think and critically analyze the experience of immigrants in America in the past and modern day.

Kamehameha the Great, by Julie Stewart Williams

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration

Age Range: 9+ years old

Kamehameha the Great is part of a series of books that the Kamehameha Schools published to ensure that our Native Hawaiian history is passed down to our keiki (kids). It is an early chapter book. In Kamehameha the Great, it shares the story of King Kamehameha, the warrior that brought together the Hawaiian islands and created the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Each chapter shares about a part of his life. There are illustrations and printed pictures to help illustrate the main information. I highly recommend this book and others in Aunty Julie Stewart Williams’ series for all elementary students. I have used this book to teach Native Hawaiian history to my Kindergarten students (I just picked certain chapters to account for their developmental needs and attention spans). 

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, by Andrea Wang

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

As a childhood fan of Nissin Cup a Noodles, I am so excited to share this picture book! Magic Ramen is the true story of Momofuku Ando, who invented instant noodles. It writes about how the long lines for ramen after World War II was Momofuku Ando’s inspiration for his culinary invention. Each page details the hard work and steps that Momofuku Ando had to engage in to reach his brilliant instant noodles! The illustrations paired with the story will engage any reader!

Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, by Dawn B. Mabalon, PhD and Gayle Romasanta

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years

Journey for Justice is a picture book that tells the true story of Larry Itliong, a Filipino American labor leader. Larry Itliong was co-founder of the United Farm Workers and fought for the rights of farmworkers. According to the publisher, this is the first nonfiction illustrated Filipino American picture book!

Lili’uokalani, by Ruby Hasegawa Lowe

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 9+ years

This was one of my favorite books growing up and I even submitted an unassigned book report on it in third grade! It is a biography about Queen Lili’uokalani who was the last queen of Hawai’i. She did so many great things during her reign and fought for the sovereignty of her Hawaiian people. This non-fiction chapter book is perfect to really dive into Hawaiian history at an age-appropriate level. It also is part of a series that Kamehameha Publishing has of many Hawaiian monarchs, such as Kamehameha the Great (see above). Please start teaching our true history!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, by June Jo Lee and Jacqueline Briggs Martin

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Between Exploration & Conversation

Age Range: 5-12 years old

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix shares about the life of Roy Choi, an innovative Korean-American chef. It talks about his contributions to the culinary world as well as the obstacles he faced during his life. The illustrations and text features throughout make this an extremely engaging picture book to read. I would suggest projecting it on a screen as you read so students can see all the different details! 

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, by Teresa Robeson

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation

Age Range: 5+ years old

In this picture book, Teresa Robeson writes a biography of Wu Chien Shiung. Wu Chien Shiung was a Chinese-American physicist who worked on beta decay and other atomic discoveries. She faced sexism and racism throughout her life and broke several glass ceilings in her field. Queen of Physics would inspire all students as well as show positive female STEM representation! 

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