30+ Asian American & Pacific Islander Picture Books to read online with Epic!

The month of May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than the stories and illustrations from beautiful picture books! While many of us are still social distancing and participating in distance learning, the website Epic! is a FREE RESOURCE for educators! If you haven’t heard of Epic!, I am more than elated to share it with you!

Epic! is an award-winning subscription service, which gives millions of families and classrooms instant, unlimited access to thousands of books, videos and quizzes from leading publishers to help kids everywhere read, learn and grow. Additionally, because of Covid-19, home accounts are FREE until June 30th. This is a great opportunity to check out Epic! and all of its amazing titles!

For AAPI Heritage Month, I have curated the following titles into a collection on Epic! that can be accessed here. If you don’t have an account yet, no worries! You can sign-up at this link.

Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen

On Saturday mornings, Sumo Joe is a gentle big brother to his little sister. But on Saturday afternoons, he and his friends are sumo wrestlers! They tie on makeshift mawashi belts, practice drills like teppo, and compete in their homemade dohyo ring. They even observe sumo’s ultimate rule: no girls allowed! But when Sumo Joe’s little sister wants to join in the fun, Sumo Joe is torn between the two things he’s best at: sumo, and being a big brother. [Japanese American]

Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan

Grandmother lives with Grace’s family. She teaches her how to measure water for rice. She tells her stories about growing up in China and together they savor the flavors of her childhood. Grandmother says goodbye when she drops Grace off at school every morning and hello when she picks her up at the end of the day.

Then, Grandmother stops walking Grace to and from school, and the door to her room stays closed. Father comes home early to make dinner, but the rice bowls stay full. One day, Grandmother’s room is empty. And one day, Grandmother is buried. After the funeral, Grace’s mom turns on all the outside lights so that Grandmother’s spirit can find its way home for one final goodbye. [Chinese American]

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina

It’s 1942. Sam’s class is knitting socks for soldiers and Sam is a terrible knitter. Keiko is a good knitter, but some kids at school don’t want anything to do with her because the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and her family is Japanese American. When Keiko’s family is forced to move to a camp for Japanese Americans, can Sam find a way to demonstrate his friendship? [Japanese American]

‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis

Join the family, or ohana, as they farm taro for poi to prepare for a traditional luau celebration with a poetic text in the style of The House That Jack Built.

“This is the land that’s never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old, that reach through the water, clear and cold, into the mud to pick the taro to make the poi for our ohana’s luau.” [Hawaiian]

When I Found Grandma by Saumiya Balsasubramaniam

When Maya’s grandma makes a surprise visit from thousands of miles away, Maya is delighted. But her excitement doesn’t last long. When Grandma picks her up from school, she wears fancy clothes and talks too loudly. Grandma’s morning prayer bells wake Maya up, and she cooks with ingredients Maya doesn’t usually eat. Plus, Maya thinks cupcakes taste better than Grandma’s homemade sweets.

Maya and Grandma try to compromise, and on a special trip to the island Grandma even wears an “all-American” baseball cap. But when Maya rushes off to find the carousel, she loses sight of her mother, father and grandmother. She is alone in a sea of people — until she spots something bobbing above the crowd, and right away she knows how to find her way. [Indian American]

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina Lazo Gilmore

Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish. With Mama’s help, Cora does the grown-up jobs like shredding the chicken and soaking the noodles (perhaps Mama won’t notice if she takes a nibble of chicken or sloshes a little water on the floor). Cora even gets to stir the noodles in the pot carefully– while Mama supervises. When dinner is finally served, her siblings find out that Cora did all their grown-up tasks, and Cora waits anxiously to see what everyone thinks of her cooking. [Filipino]

Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk

2019 Colorado Book Award Finalist Recognized in The 50 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2018 Mela sets out to explore the river outside her village but quickly ends up in trouble when her little boat is swept downstream and into the dense jungle. She encounters a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys, offering each a prize return for helping her find her way home but the animals snatch up their rewards without helping Mela back to her village. Just when she’s about to give up, an elephant shows Mela that kindness is its own reward. This new fable is told with authentic Thai customs and includes an author’s note with more Thai traditions and language. [Taiwanese]

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

As the seasons change, so too does a young Hmong girl’s world. She moves into a new home with her family and encounters both birth and death. As this curious girl explores life inside her house and beyond, she collects bits of the natural world. But who are her treasures for? [Hmong]

The Tsunami Quilt by Anthony D. Fredericks

April 1, 1946 – an enormous tsunami wave strikes Hilo, Hawai’i, causing death and destruction. Even those islanders who are fortunate to have survived find their lives forever altered. Young Kimo loves his grandfather very much – they go everywhere together, sharing island stories and experiences. But there is one story his grandfather has yet to share and that is the reason behind their yearly pilgrimage to Laupahoehoe Point. Here, in silent remembrance, Grandfather places a flower lei atop a stone monument. It is only after his grandfather’s sudden death that Kimo learns the story behind their annual visit and the reason for the sadness that has haunted his grandfather throughout the years. [Hawaiian]

Mooncakes by Loretta Seto

Mooncakes is the lyrical story of a young girl who shares the special celebration of the Chinese Moon Festival with her parents. As they eat mooncakes, drink tea and watch the night sky together, Mama and Baba tell ancient tales of a magical tree that can never be cut down, the Jade Rabbit who came to live on the moon and one brave woman’s journey to eternal life. With a gentle focus on the importance of family, Mooncakes is both a perfect book for parent and child to read together and an ideal choice for schools and libraries. [Chinese]

Pele and Poli’ahu retold by Malia Collins

Long, long ago, on the Island of Hawaii, there lived two beautiful goddesses. Pele, the goddess of fire, lived on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Poliahu, the goddess of snow, lived on the snow capped peaks of Mauna Kea. So begins the retelling of the classic Hawaiian legend a tale of fire and ice when Pele ventured off her fiery mountaintop to make mischief and challenge Poliahu to a sled race down the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea. It is a story about the power of nature, the power of wills, the power of skill, and an explanation of why the Big Island, to this day, is and island of contrasts. [Hawaiian]

Yoga in the Jungle by Ramiro Calle

Yoga in the Jungle is a wonderful tale of friendship that unfolds in the vibrant jungle of India, introducing young readers to the practice of yoga. While mimicking the body language of the exotic animals in the story, the beautifully illustrated yoga poses will help children to improve their poise and concentration, nurturing a learning process that will fill them with peace, happiness and a sense of being connected to nature. [Asian Indian]

Sadako’s Cranes by Judith Loske

Based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, who lived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, Sadako’s Cranes tells the story of her battle with leukemia. When Sadako hears of a Japanese legend which says that a person who folds 1,000 paper cranes is granted a wish, she begins folding cranes. Her wish was simply to live. [Japanese]

Maggie’s Chopsticks by Alan Woo

Maggie comes from a family of unique individuals, all with their own opinions and style, each one of them willing to give advice on how the child should hold her new chopsticks. Maggie listens to all of them in turn, weighing her options. Grandmother suggests using chopsticks in a rather forthright way, while Sister suggests a more graceful approach. As Maggie begins to worry that she may never find her own style, her father suggests that she be herself. Because of his encouragement, she is able to find just what works for her. Maggie comes from a traditional Chinese family, and she clearly wants to make them proud. [Chinese]

Mali Under the Night Sky: a Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne

This book is a 2011 Skipping Stones honor book and the true story of Laotian American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Before the war began, Mali lived an idyllic life in a community where she felt safe and was much loved. But the coming war caused her family to flee to another country and a life that was less than ideal. What did she carry with her? She carried her memories. And they in turn carried her across the world, sharing where she is from and all that she loves with the people she meets. [Laotian]

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim

In this clever picture-book retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Chinese New Year starts with Goldy Luck’s mother asking her to bring turnip cakes to their panda neighbors, the Chans. Goldy heads next door, promptly spilling her plate of turnip cakes as she walks in the front door; from there, things unfold as might be expected. She eats up Little Chan’s rice porridge, breaks his rocking chair, and falls asleep on his futon. Goldy Luck’s conscience gets the better of her, though, and she learns some valuable lessons about friendship and being a good neighbor. 

In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan

As a young boy in Gujarat, India, Kumar sometimes feels like he lives in two worlds. First there is the old world where people and their choices are determined by prejudice and bigotry. But then there is the second, modern world: in this world Kumar can be friends with whomever he chooses and his future looks bright. As part of the annual Diwali celebration, Kumar is invited to the house of his classmate Andal to watch fireworks. Andal is from a high-caste Brahmin family so Kumar is especially pleased to be included. But there in Andal’s house, Kumar’s two worlds collide in a very unpleasant way. Instead of being welcomed as a guest, Kumar is sent away, forbidden to join the festivities. Angry and hurt, Kumar is left questioning his place in Indian society. Where does he fit in? To which world does he really belong? [Asian Indian]

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch

Growing up in New York City, Hiromi Suzuki missed spending time with her father, a sushi chef who worked long hours in the family’s Japanese restaurant. So one day when she was eight years old, Hiromi begged her father to take her to the Fulton Fish Market, where he bought fresh fish. Hiromi was fascinated by what she saw and learned; by the time she was thirteen, she was ready to take the next step. She asked her father to teach her to make sushi. Little did Hiromi realize that her request would lead her to the forefront of a minor culinary revolution, as women claimed their place in the once all-male world of sushi chefs. [Japanese American]

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami

A young boy spots a baby tree growing in the middle of a dusty path in his village. He carefully places rocks around it as the local mango seller rushes past shouting, “Out of the way! Out of the way!” As the tree grows bigger, people and animals traverse the path until it becomes a lane, flowing like a river around the tree — getting out of its way. Over time, the lane becomes a road, and a young man crossing the road with his children remembers the baby tree from long ago. By the time he is an old man, the tree has become a giant. The city traffic continues to rattle past, noisier and busier than ever, but sometimes the great tree works its magic, and people just stop, and listen. [Asian Indian]

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service by Annette Bay Pimental

Tie Sing was born in the mountains. The mountains were in his blood. But because he was of Chinese descent at a time in America when to be Chinese meant working in restaurants or laundries, Tie Sing’s prospects were limited. But he had bigger plans. He began cooking for mapmakers and soon built a reputation as the best trail cook in California.
 
When millionaire Stephen Mather began his quest to create a national park service in 1915, he invited a group of influential men—writers, tycoons, members of Congress, and even a movie star—to go camping in the Sierras. Tie Sing was hired to cook.
 
Tie Sing planned diligently. He understood the importance of this trip. But when disaster struck—twice!—and Tie Sing’s supplies were lost, it was his creative spirit and quick mind that saved the day. His sumptuous menus had to be struck and Tie Sing had to start over in order to feed the thirty people in the group for ten whole days. His skills were tested and Tie Sing rose to the challenge.
 
On the last night, he fed not just the campers’ bodies, but also their minds, reminding them to remember and protect the mountains. [Chinese American]

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki

As a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania in the 1940s, Chiune Sugihara had a chance to help thousands of Jews escape the Holocaust through Japan, but it was against his government’s orders. When his five-year-old son Hiroki asked, “If we don’t help them, won’t they die?” Sugihara decided to assist the refugees. [Japanese]

Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries by Emily Arnold McCully

In 1841, Japan had been closed to the outside world for 250 years, and anyone who tried to return to the country after leaving it could be executed. So when the small fishing boat on which fourteen-year-old Manjiro was working was shipwrecked, he despaired of ever returning to his village. The captain of the American whaling ship that rescued Manjiro took a special interest in him, inviting him to come live in Massachusetts. There, Manjiro was treated like Captain Whitfield’s son, and he began to feel as though Massachusetts was his second home. Still, he never gave up his dream of finding a way to return to Japan and see his mother again. [Japanese American]

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

“Sohn maash” is the flavors in our fingertips. It is the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade foods. For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles? [Korean American]

Peach Girl by Raymond Nakamura

When the farmer and her husband find a giant peach at their door, they can’t imagine how it got there. But they are even more surprised when the skin bursts open and out leaps . . . a girl. Momoko is here to make the world a better place, and what better way to start than by investigating the rumours about a fearsome local ogre? Everyone says the ogre has teeth like knives, shoots flames from his eyes, and eats small children.

But Momoko wants to find out for herself, and her new friends Monkey, Dog, and Pheasant might just be able to help her – as long as she’s willing to share those tasty peach dumplings. [Japanese]

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

It’s Chinese New Year in Chinatown, and young Sam has four dollars of New Year money burning a hole in his pocket. As he and his mother are milling through the crowded streets–alive with firecrackers, lion dances, and shoppers–Sam accidentally steps on the foot of a homeless man who is buried in a pile of red paper. Flustered, Sam hurries back to his mother, and is soon distracted by the char siu bao and other sweets he might buy with his gift money. When he sees fish-tail cookies that remind him of toes, he remembers the old man again, and Sam starts to think of his “lucky money” in a new light. [Chinese American]

Crane Boy by Diana Cohn

Every year, Kinga and his classmates wait for the black-necked cranes to return to the kingdom of Bhutan. The birds fly south over the highest mountains in the word to winter in the valley where Kinga lives, deep in the Himalayas. The cranes have been visiting the valley since ancient times, but every year, fewer cranes return. Kinga is concerned. “What can he do?,” he wonders. He and his classmates approach the monks for permission to create and perform a dance to honor the cranes and to remind the Bhutanese people of their duty to care for them. The monks caution them to first watch the cranes to see how they move and learn from them. The children watch and practice. And practice some more until the big day when they perform before the king of Bhutan. [Bhutanese]

Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family’s Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp by Katie Yamasaki

For two boys in a Japanese American family, everything changed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war.

With the family forced to leave their home and go to an internment camp, Jimmy loses his appetite. Older brother Taro takes matters into his own hands and, night after night, sneaks out of the camp and catches fresh fish for Jimmy to help make him strong again. [Japanese American]

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki

Suki’s favorite possession is her blue cotton kimono. A gift from her obachan, it holds special memories of her grandmother’s visit last summer. And Suki is going to wear it on her first day back to school — no matter what anyone says.

When it’s Suki’s turn to share with her classmates what she did during the summer, she tells them about the street festival she attended with her obachan and the circle dance that they took part in. In fact, she gets so carried away reminiscing that she’s soon humming the music and dancing away, much to the delight of her entire class! [Japanese American]

King for a Day by Rukshana Khan

Basant is here, with feasts and parties to celebrate the arrival of spring. But what Malik is looking forward to most is doing battle from his rooftop with Falcon, the special kite he has built for speed. Today is Malik’s chance to be the best kite fighter, the king of Basant.

In two fierce battles, Malik takes down the kites flown by the bully next door. Then Malik moves on, guiding Falcon into leaps, swirls, and dives, slashing strings and plucking kites from the sky. By the end of the day, Malik has a big pile of captured kites. He is the king! But then the bully reappears, trying to take a kite from a girl in the alley below. With a sudden act of kingly generosity, Malik finds the perfect way to help the girl. [Pakistani]

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James & Virginia Shin-Mui Loh

In 1926, 12-year-old Fu Lee lives with his grandparents in a small village in China. He lives with his grandparents because his parents are dead. It is a difficult life but made easier by the love Lee shares with his grandparents. But now Lee must leave all that he knows. Before his parents died, they spent all of their money buying a “paper son slot” for Lee to go to America. Being a “paper son” means pretending to be the son of a family already in America. If he goes, he will have the chance for a better life. But first he must pass the test at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. Only then will he be allowed to live with his new family. If Lee makes even a single mistake, he could be sent back to China. Lee knows his grandparents want a better life for him. He can’t let them down. [Chinese American]

Ma Jiang and the Orange Ants by Barbara Ann Porte

Ma Jiang’s family earns their living by selling orange ants to farmers who use them to protect their orchards from other destructive insects. The child’s father and brothers climb high into the trees to cut down the nests of the fierce biting ants and her mother sells them at market in the rush-mat bags that she weaves. When war is declared, all the men must serve in the emperor’s army, leaving Ma Jiang, her mother, and baby brother to fend for themselves. The society discouraged women from learning to climb trees so the family’s orange-ant business seems doomed. Ma Jiang is a quick-witted heroine who invents a low-hanging trap after noticing hundreds of ants drawn to a drop of spilled honey. When her father and brothers return home, they applaud her survival skills and creative thinking. [Chinese]

Lin Yi’s Lantern by Brenda Williams

Meet Lin Yi — a little boy with a big heart and a talent for bargaining. He wants to buy himself a red rabbit lantern at the market for the moon festival tonight; but first, he must buy the things his mother needs. Will he be able to save enough money on his mother’s needs to buy the lantern? This heartwarming story shows the practical use of math in everyday life and the rewards of putting others first. Features educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China and the legend of the moon fairy. [Chinese]

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Shorty and his family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, have been forced to relocate from their home to Camp. One day Shorty’s dad looks out across the desert and decides they should build a baseball field. Fighting the heat, dust, and freezing cold nights, the prisoners need something to look forward to, even if only for nine innings. So in this unlikely place, surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guards in towers, a baseball league is born. And Shorty soon finds that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect. [Japanese American]

Ghost Train by Paul Yee

Left behind in China by her father, who has gone to North America to find work, Choon-yi has made her living by selling her paintings in the market. When her father writes one day and asks her to join him, she joyously sets off, only to discover that he has been killed. Choon-yi sees the railway and the giant train engines that her father died for, and she is filled with an urge to paint them. But her work disappoints her until a ghostly presence beckons her to board the train where she meets the ghosts of the men who died building the railway. She is able to give them peace by returning their bones to China where they were born. [Chinese American]

Keala and the Hawaiian Bird by Patricia McLean

Every fine morning, when the sun starts to rise Over the mountains in the blue Maui sky, Keala is woken by birds in the trees, Greeting the day with their sweet symphony. Until…one morning Keala hears a new, strange sound. What kind of bird could it be? A delightful story told in rhyme will give kids an idea of what it’s like growing up in Hawaii where bird song is always in the air. Keala, a curious young girl, wakes up every morning to the sounds of chirping, squawking, and crowing. Then one day, Keala hears another sound….a screech. What kind of bird makes that sound? Keala searches around her home to find out. [Hawaiian]

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady

When Executive Order 9066 is enacted after the attack at Pearl Harbor, children’s librarian Clara Breed’s young Japanese American patrons are to be sent to prison camp. Before they are moved, Breed asks the children to write her letters and gives them books to take with them. Through the three years of their internment, the children correspond with Miss Breed, sharing their stories, providing feedback on books, and creating a record of their experiences. [Japanese American]

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