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Seeing Asian-Americans: Best Books for Children

Adele Jeunette has been a youth librarian for 20 years and a mother to a child from China for 18 years.

Seeing Asian-Americans: Best Books for Kids

Seeing Asian-Americans: Best Books for Kids

Guide to This Site on Books featuring Asians and Asian-Americans for Children

Here is a guide to the books covered in this site. They are arranged from youngest to oldest.

Books for Young Children

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

The Empty Pot by Demi

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

Books for 1st-3rd Grade Children

Day of the Dragon King by Mary Pope Osborne

A Perfect time for Pandas by Mary Pope Osborne

Pandas and Other Endangered Species by Mary Pope Osborne

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Books for Older Children

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Tiger by Jeff Stone

Oldies But Goodies

In the Snow by Huy Voun Lee

At the Beach by Huy Voun Lee

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The Story of Paper by Ying Chang Compestine

Eyewitness Books: China

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

Books for Young Children

This first section of books, for children between 2 and 6 years old, feature lots of pictures and lots of action. Here, you will find books about an inventive set of brothers, classic folk tales, and tales of boys in everyday situations.

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

In the Forbidden City

In the Forbidden City

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

This is a book for the child who loves poring over little details in things like maps, Eyewitness Books, or the “I Spy” books. At first it seems rather spare and austere, but as you start taking a close look at it, you find that it is jam packed with interesting little facts—and humor as well.

The book is a whimsical, minutely detailed work of art with lots of interesting little facts tucked in. The authors came up with the idea of a little cat who takes you from scene to scene within the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The first layout, which unfold into a 5-page dramatically conveys the enormousness of the place, with hundreds of tiny tourists roaming the grounds. Cartoons of the 16 different emperors of the Ming Dynasty stand behind the wall, each with a speech bubble that gives you a characterization of his reign. One says “I ordered the Forbidden City to be built;” another says “Crickets were my hobby,” and another admits, “I was a fiasco.”

The stories for the text have been chosen for kid appeal: “The Year Ten Thousand Envoys Came to Pay Tribute,” “The Last Grand Wedding Ceremony,” “The Empress Dowager Is Celebrating Her Big Birthday.”

The book even comes with a little magnifying glass so that readers can take an even closer look at the drawings that characterize this ancient landmark of China.

best-books-for-dads-families-with-children-from-china

The Empty Pot by Demi

For children ages 4-7; Picture Story Book

In The Empty Pot, Ping is the best gardener in the village, and when the emperor says that his position will be passed on to the child who grows the best plant from a seed given to them, Ping thinks he has a lock on winning. But, his plant doesn’t grow while ever other child manages to coax a large flower from their seeds.

It turns out that the emperor’s contest was not about horticultural ability, but honesty. This classic story is lovingly illustrated by Demi.

best-books-for-dads-families-with-children-from-china

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

For children ages 5-8; Picture Story Book

In Sam and the Lucky Money, a boy in Chinatown needs to decide on something special to buy for new year with the four dollars he has been given. When he stumbles across a homeless man, he has a new perspective on “lucky money.” A tale of generosity that brings the Chinatown setting to life.


Book Trailer for Sam and the Lucky Money

Books for 1st-3rd Grade Children


Children often start to read chapter books when they are in early elementary school, and the following titles include book series that are popular with this age group.

Magic Tree House Books by Mary Pope Osborne

Osborne’s beginning chapter book series about a time-traveling boy-girl duo is beloved by millions of young readers. Two of her books take the pair to China. She also has a nonfiction book tie-in.

Day of the Dragon King:  Best Books for Boys:  Families with Children from China

Day of the Dragon King: Best Books for Boys: Families with Children from China

best-books-for-dads-families-with-children-from-china

Day of the Dragon King by Mary Pope Osborne

For children in grades 1-4; Beginning Chapter Book

In Day of the Dragon King Jack and Annie travel back to ancient China to stop the powerful emperor, the Dragon King, from burning all the books. They are especially interested in saving a particular bamboo book. During their time in the ancient past, they meet up with characters from Chinese legend and they also observe history while it is happening. Though these books don't go into lots of historical detail, they can serve to pique a children's interest and may lead them to take a look at the many good nonfiction books about China. A great choice for children who have just learned to read enough to handle a short chapter book.

Pandas and Other Endangered Species

Pandas and Other Endangered Species

best-books-for-dads-families-with-children-from-china

A Perfect time for Pandas by Mary Pope Osborne

For children in grades; 1-4 Beginning Chapter Book

Children's mega-author Mary Pope Osborne continues her fast-paced time-traveling series with A Perfect time for Pandas. It's actually the last of a 4-part series-within-a-series in which the children, Jack and Annie, need to find four things that will help revive Merlin's penguin. (No sure how he got a penguin, but that's a tale for later.) Fortunately, the author puts in plenty of backstory explaining the other items they've found, so children won't be confused by reading this final one. And, since it wraps up the plotline, they find out that the children did indeed find everything that the penguin needs.

This story has the children traveling to more or less contemporary China during the time of the Sichuan earthquake. They travel to the Wolong panda reserve and volunteer to take care of some of the pandas there. When the earthquake strikes, they use a little magic to get to the pandas and help them out. All in all, it's a nice story with a little adventure, and a little learning about pandas and China. My radar went up a little at one point when the children were remarking on unusual Chinese food such as green bean jelly and stinky tofu, but then they realized that some American foods have pretty funny-sounding names such ashot dogs and squash. By and large, the tone of the book is respectful and the Chinese people featured are portrayed as intelligent and compassionate.

If your child likes learning about pandas, the author has also written a non-fiction "fact-tracker" companion book which is an easy reading book of facts about pandas.

Pandas and Other Endangered Species by Mary Pope Osborne

For children in grades 1-4; Nonfiction Book

Osborne’s nonfiction books are formatted to look much like the beginning chapter books they accompany: relatively large print, and lots of space between lines of text. Pandas and Other Endangered Species covers things like the panda habitat and diet as well as preservation efforts. It includes other endangered animals, such as the snow leopard.

Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look

Look has created a series of beginning chapter books about a second-grade boy who wants to be brave, but finds a reason to be afraid of just about everything. I have a feeling the series’ success is due to the fact that many boys sympathize with at least some of Alvin’s fears, but they can also feel just a little bit superior, because they’re not that scaredy-cat.

I’ve highlighted the newest one below—about Alvin’s trip to China—but you can search Amazon for the other books in the series as well.

best-books-for-dads-families-with-children-from-china

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions

For children in grades 1-4; Beginning Chapter Book

In Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions, Alvin is a boy who is excited about his family’s trip to China, but he’s also anxious about what could happen on the 16-hour plane trip, not to mention the thought of being squeezed in the humungous crowds of people. This book could be a nice intro to the sights of China (provided your boy doesn’t get caught up in Alvin’s disaster scenarios), especially if your family is planning a trip to China.

Books for Older Children

The following list of books takes children from late elementary school up through the teen years. Here you will find a series about young teen boys on a mission from a kung fu monastery, a fiction series which chronicles the stories of Chinese-American men and boys in America, and a novel about finding identity in a family built through adoption.

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence

A Story of Baseball and Family

I was enchanted by Shang’s first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, and I picked up The Way Home Looks Now as soon as I saw in in the library’s new book section. I’m pleased to say, it doesn’t disappoint.

For this story, she turns her attention to a Chinese-American boy, 12-year-old Peter Lee. He’s a kid growing up in the ‘70’s whose family has bonded over baseball. They are Pittsburgh Pirate fans and also love keeping track of Taiwanese teams who come to play in the United States.

Peter’s father, however, doesn’t seem to share the rest of the family’s love of the game. He is all seriousness, and often tells his boys to do their homework rather than join a pick-up game in the neighborhood.

As the story opens, we find out that Peter’s older brother, Nelson, was recently killed in a car accident, leaving his mother so grief-stricken that she can barely get off the couch. Peter is caught in a double-bind, missing his brother and desperately wanting to lift his mother’s spirits. He notices that she perks up now and then when they talk about baseball, and he decides to join a Little League team in hopes of drawing her out to the games.

To his surprise, his father volunteers to coach the team and teaches the boys using the methods he learned when he was a boy in Taiwan—methods that often leave the team scratching their heads in confusion.

Shang has crafted an engaging, poignant story here, one that moves along quickly, has an entertaining baseball story (there’s a twist involving one of the team members), and shows children the values of patience and family bonds.

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

The Shadow Hero

The Shadow Hero

Chinese-American Boy in Book by Marvel's Stan Lee

For children in Grades 3-7

When I saw The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence with the Chinese zodiac on the cover I knew that I had to see what it was all about. When I saw that it was co-written by Stan Lee, driving force behind Marvel Comics and co-creator of such characters as Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four and Iron-Man, I knew that I’d have a real potential kid-pleaser in my hands.