What to get the kids for the holidays? Asian American children’s books!
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
I was never sure how to answer when people asked me what my children wanted for presents or if they already had a certain toy. Maybe it was cultural, or socioeconomic, because as a child I never made a Christmas list or asked for specific gifts. Not even to Santa. To do so felt greedy, presumptuous.
I also never worried about whether I was giving my children’s friends duplicates of toys they already had because I always gave Asian American books. I once received an email out of the blue from a mom I used to know, when our kids were entering college, thanking me again for an Asian American picture book about dumplings that I had given her child in preschool, that she still remembered so many years later.
So if you are still searching for gift ideas this holiday season, here are some new 2021 Asian American children’s books, from picture books to middle school graphic novels to YA nonfiction.
"From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement,” by Paula Yoo, Norton Young Readers, 2021. For young adult readers, the 1982 baseball bat killing of Vincent Chin and how it brought the Asian American community together in protest and civil rights justice. Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
"The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee,” by Julie Leung (Author) Julie Kwon (Illustrator), Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021. An inspiring picture book biography about Hazel Ying Lee, the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military.
"Eyes That Kiss in the Corners,” by Joanna Ho (Author) Dung Ho (Illustrator), HarperCollins, 2021. A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers'. Her eyes are like her mother's, her grandmother's, and her little sister's. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons. A New York Times Bestseller and #1 Indie Bestseller.
"I Dream of Popo,” by Livia Blackburne (Author) Julia Kuo (Illustrator), Roaring Brook Press, 2021. When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but their love is ever true and strong.
"From the Tops of the Trees,” by Kao Kalia Yang (Author) Rachel Wada (Illustrator), Carolrhoda Books, 2021. “Father, is all of the world a refugee camp?” Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand. Her father leads her to the tallest tree in the camp and shows her the spread of a world beyond.
"Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab," by Priya Huq, Amulet Books, 2021. In this middle-grade graphic novel, Nisrin, a 13-year-old Bangladeshi American girl living in Oregon, gives a presentation for eighth grade World Culture Day about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. On her way home, she is the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.
"Finding Junie Kim,” by Ellen Oh, HarperCollins, 2021. When Junie Kim is faced with middle school racism, she learns of her grandparents' extraordinary strength and compassion during the Korean War and finds her voice. This middle grade novel is from Ellen Oh, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books.
Bonus gift: Grace Lin’s 2022 “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” trilogy calendar.