Losing as well as finding ourselves in story is a joy for readers of all ages. Sometimes a thoroughly unfamiliar topic piques my interest, but more often it is a spark of recognition that attracts me to a book. I hope parents as well as children will find the titles below broadly relatable.
Only after drafting these reviews did I realize that, while heroes from history dominated my selections for African-American and Women’s History months, this list principally represents fictional depictions of common experiences. These works acknowledge that multicultural kids face challenging circumstances, while also possessing a rich heritage.
Included are titles for readers from two to twelve (and up). Some deal directly with the immigrant experience; others depict children of immigrants. Some illuminate Asian life and culture. I offer my regrets on the absence of Pacific Islander representation. Whether my personal experience or volume of available literature limited my selection, the omission was not intentional; I will watch for outstanding titles to include next year.
Whether you seek literature that reflects your multicultural family or simply aim to broaden your children’s window on the world, I hope you will enjoy these well-crafted books as much as I have.
Immigration and First-Generation Asian-Americans
Friends Are Friends Forever, by Dane Liu, ill. Lynn Scurfield (Goodwin Books, 2021, ages 4–8, 40 pp)
Inspired by the author’s experience of moving from China to North Carolina, this book follows a young immigrant from one Lunar New Year to the next. Though grieved to leave behind a best friend, she finds a sympathetic soul in America who shares her delight in Chinese New Year traditions. The author’s note offers a simple New Year’s explanation and paper cutting activity.
Mommy’s Hometown, by Hope Lim, ill. Jaime Kim (Candlewick, 2022, ages 3–7, 32 pp.)
The son of a Korean immigrant grows up hearing about his mother’s small town life. When they return for a visit, a city has taken shape around the river the mother played in and the streets where she rode her bike. But in the midst of modern life the two discover glimpses of the past and new ways to enjoy the present. Anyone who has visited a beloved place, whether known from stories or personal experience, will resonate with this bittersweet mix of recognition and unfamiliarity.
Baba’s Gift: A Persian Father’s Love of Family, by Ariana Shaheen Amini and Christina Maheen Amini, ill. Elaheh Taherian (Little Bigfoot, 2023, ages 4–8, 23 pp.)
The legacy of doctor and author Fariborz Amini shines in this tribute by two of his six daughters. The designs in the family’s Persian carpets, vividly highlighted by Taherian’s art, inspire stories of Amini’s homeland in Iran—gardens, fruit trees, extended family, and his mother’s love. Amini came to the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century to study medicine and stayed to teach, practice, mentor, and raise a family. As described in the authors’ notes, Amini is best known for his teaching on emotions, relationships, and parenting, all of which come through in this heartfelt book.
This Is Not My Home, by Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang (Little, Brown & Co., 2023, ages 4–8, 32 pp.)
Having grown up in the U.S., Lily moves to Taiwan with her family to be near her aging grandmother. The animated text and illustrations, some in comic-book-style sequences, aptly convey Lily’s struggles. Though this world may belong to her mother, it most definitely is not Lily’s. In her encounters with Taiwanese food, outdoor markets, transportation, temples, toilets, and school, we feel as well as hear Lily’s frustrated refrain. But readers also witness empathy in action, as Lily, encouraged by her mother, learns to see from another point of view.
Amah Faraway, by Margaret Chiu Greanias, ill. Tracy Subisak (Bloomsbury, 2022, ages 4–8, 40 pp.)
As with the previous title, a Taiwanese-American family attempts to maintain ties with grandparents, not by transplanting but through visits and video chats. Phrasing in the second half of the book mirrors that in the first, but with a twist. The shift demonstrates daughter Kylie’s altered perspective as she forges a connection with her grandmother. The author and illustrator’s shared experiences with Kylie no doubt contribute to the book’s sympathetic tone.
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo, ill. Lin Wang (Lee & Low, 2009, ages 6–11, 32 pp.)
This beautifully illustrated biography traces the growth and emergence of an early twentieth century Chinese-American cinema star. Longer text blocks and frank discussions of the prejudice Wong faced lend themselves to reading and discussion with older grade school children. Though determined to be more selective once her career was established, Wong was criticized for her early acceptance of roles that stereotyped Asian women. Her story highlights the difficult choices imposed by hardship and the elusive nature of simplistic solutions.
Same Sun Here, by Neela Vaswani and Silas House (Candlewick, 2012, ages 9–12, 288 pp.)
This charming novel in letters resulted from an epistolary collaboration between the authors. Twelve-year-old pen pals Meena and River, writing from New York and Kentucky, discover the divergences and commonalities of their backgrounds and experiences. Their topics range across race, sports, pets, theater, music, history, environmental activism, terrorism, grandmothers, politics, immigration, pigeons, okra, and more, all conveyed through relatable adolescent voices.
Asian Life and Culture
Hush! A Thai Lullaby, by Minfong Ho, ill. Holly Meade (Orchard, 1996, ages 2–4, 32 pp.)
Rhyming verse and subtle pictorial humor make this Caldecott Honor book a soothing bedtime selection. The earthy hues of Mead’s cut-paper illustrations complement the text to portray scenes of rural life. The author’s multinational background includes Chinese parentage, birth in Myanmar, childhood in Thailand, and higher education in Taiwan and the U.S. Her many publications, including picture books, novels, and translations, bring to life Southeast Asian settings and conflicts.
On My Way to Buy Eggs, by Chih-Yuan Chen (Kane/Miller, 2003, ages 2–6, 40 pp.)
The allure of this simple translated book is difficult to define, but it charmed me upon first discovery some years ago. Chen’s multimedia art employs a limited range of neutral tones, recollecting picture books from my ’70s childhood. Upon discovering an abandoned pair of eyeglasses, protagonist Shau-yu assumes an endearing and spirited impersonation of her mother. Minute details incorporated into the sparse text bring to life the shops and lanes of a Taiwanese neighborhood.
The Crane Girl, adapted by Curtis Manley, ill. Lin Wang (Shen’s Books, 2017, ages 7–11, 32 pp.)
Wang’s classically styled paintings (see also Shining Star, above) are perfectly suited to the elegant birds and mythic themes of this folktale adaptation. The author’s notes explain that shape-shifting cranes appear in a number of traditional Japanese stories. Manley also discusses haiku in traditional and contemporary poetic practice and as used in the book.
Eighteen Vats of Water, by Ji-Li Jiang, ill. Nadia Hsieh (Creston, 2022, ages 7–10, 32 pp.)
Hsieh’s blend of traditional and contemporary art styles pairs perfectly with Jiang’s story telling. Two father-and-son calligraphers from Chinese history demonstrate the necessity of dedication as well as inspiration in mastering any art form. Jiang’s other books for young people include Red Scarf Girl (Harper Collins, 2010, ages 8–12), a memoir of her childhood during the 1960s Cultural Revolution. She has founded two nonprofits dedicated to promoting international cultural exchange.
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick, 2020, ages 8–12, 288 pp.)
In June 2018 media channels across the world reported the entrapment and rescue of these boys, ages eleven to seventeen, and their coach. Soontornvat, a Texas resident, was visiting family in Thailand at the time. This detailed account resulting from her meticulous research is almost as riveting as the real-time events. Soontornvat’s numerous other books include A Wish in the Dark (Candlewick, 2020) and The Last Mapmaker (Candlewick, 2022), both middle grade novels set in Thai-inspired fantasy worlds. The latter is a Newberry Honor book.