Promoting Cultural Diversity and Representation in the Classroom
I haven’t curated a book list in a while because I’ve been teaching extensively this year. However, like many others, I’ve been deeply concerned about the surge in Anti-Asian hate crimes both in the United States and globally. As educators, one of the tools we have to combat racism is to ensure that our classrooms reflect a diverse range of cultures, people, and stories. Now, having said that, I want to emphasize that this is just one piece of the puzzle. To truly address these issues, I encourage you to explore anti-bias and anti-racism resources designed for early childhood education. Nonetheless, incorporating picture books with Asian characters into your classroom library is a great way to start. Some of these books explore specific aspects of Asian cultures, while others simply feature Asian characters. It’s important to have a mix of both.
Picture Books with Asian Characters: A Must-Have for Your Classroom Library
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“The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi
“The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi is a heartwarming tale. Meet Unhei, a young girl who recently immigrated from Korea. She faces a dilemma: choosing an American name that is easy to pronounce. Unhei’s classmates contribute suggestions by placing them in a name jar. As she becomes more acclimated to her new environment and forms friendships, Unhei realizes that she doesn’t need to change her identity. This book beautifully conveys important lessons about authenticity, supporting friends, and finding courage in unfamiliar situations.
“The Empty Pot” by Demi
“The Empty Pot” by Demi is a captivating fable about a young Chinese boy who participates in a contest to become the next emperor. This story highlights the value of honesty and showcases stunning illustrations that add to its appeal.
“Pink Tiara Cookies For Three” by Maria Dismondy
“Pink Tiara Cookies For Three” by Maria Dismondy is a relatable tale about two best friends whose friendship is put to the test when a new girl joins their group. This story explores the emotions of rejection, loneliness, and anger that children sometimes experience in these situations. It’s a valuable resource for teaching empathy and inclusion.
“Eyes That Kiss In The Corner” by Joanna Ho
“Eyes That Kiss In The Corner” by Joanna Ho is a beautifully illustrated book celebrating Asian eyes and individuality. The story revolves around a young girl who notices that her eyes differ from those of her friends. Instead of feeling self-conscious, she embraces her uniqueness and takes pride in her family heritage. This book promotes self-acceptance and instills a sense of cultural pride.
“Hush” by Mingfrong Ho
“Hush” by Mingfrong Ho is a gentle and melodic Thai lullaby. It tells the story of a mother’s efforts to create a quiet environment for her baby to sleep. Simple enough for younger children to enjoy, this book also captures the attention of older kids through its depiction of the baby’s mischievous antics as the mother tries to hush her.
“Peek: A Thai Hide and Seek” by Minfong Ho
“Peek: A Thai Hide and Seek” by Minfong Ho is a delightful book that explores the playful bond between a father and daughter. Together, they engage in an exciting game of hide and seek in the jungle, and even the animals join in on the fun. This book beautifully portrays the special relationship between dads and their little ones.
“Drawn Together” by Minh Lê
“Drawn Together” by Minh Lê is a perfect example of a heartwarming and poignant story. It depicts the generational and cultural divide between a grandfather and grandson. However, they discover that a shared passion for drawing bridges their differences. This book emphasizes the power of communication and connection, transcending language and cultural barriers.
“The Red Piano” by Andre Leblanc
“The Red Piano” by Andre Leblanc is a profoundly moving biography about Zhu Xiao-Mei, a talented young pianist growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. Despite the challenges she faces, Zhu Xiao-Mei’s unwavering passion for music becomes her source of strength. This book sheds light on the resilience and determination required to overcome adversity.
“Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki
“Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki is an important book that introduces children to the history of Japanese internment during World War Two. Through a child’s perspective, readers witness the injustice and hardships experienced by Japanese-Americans in internment camps. This book offers an opportunity to educate children about this often overlooked aspect of American history.
“Grandpa Grumps” by Katrina Moore
“Grandpa Grumps” by Katrina Moore is an adorable story about a little girl named Daisy and her relationship with her grandfather, Yeh-Yeh. Yeh-Yeh, visiting from China, initially comes across as grumpy. However, as Daisy persists in getting to know him, a heartwarming connection develops between the two. Discover the joy and love that arise from their evolving friendship in this delightful tale.
“Kokeshi: Yumi” by Annelore Parot
“Kokeshi: Yumi” by Annelore Parot is an overwhelmingly cute book that follows the adventures of a little wooden doll named Yumi from Japan. Join Yumi as she prepares for and attends a costume party. This book incorporates various interactive elements that will delight your children. Just be cautious if reading it with exuberant toddlers, as it’s not a board book and might get damaged. The illustrations beautifully integrate Japanese cultural elements like kimonos, sushi, and fish kites into the enchanting storyline.
“Snow White” by Chloe Perkins
“Snow White” by Chloe Perkins transports readers to Japan while recounting the classic Snow White story. Although it retains the traditional aspects of the tale, such as the prince’s kiss awakening the sleeping princess, this version invites discussions about consent and respectful behavior. The book features captivating illustrations by Misa Saburi, immersing readers in the beauty of Japan.
“My Name Is Yoon” by Helen Recorvits
“My Name Is Yoon” by Helen Recorvits revolves around a young girl from Korea who is adjusting to her new life in America. Yoon initially struggles with the English spelling of her name, feeling that it doesn’t do justice to her identity. Through her interactions at school, she discovers that her name is a part of her heritage and holds the same meaning regardless of how it’s written. This book features dreamlike illustrations that beautifully complement the emotions conveyed in the text.
“The Falling Flowers” by Jennifer B. Reed
“The Falling Flowers” by Jennifer B. Reed tells the heartwarming story of a grandmother taking her young granddaughter on a surprise outing in Tokyo. Their destination holds sentimental value, as it allows the grandmother to relive cherished memories from her past. This book offers a tender glimpse into the softer side of Tokyo, breaking away from the usual portrayal of a city dominated by steel, cement, and neon lights.
“A Piece of Home” by Jeri Watts
“A Piece of Home” by Jeri Watts explores the challenges faced by an intergenerational Korean family as they immigrate to West Virginia. Specifically, it focuses on the grandmother’s journey from being a respected teacher in Korea to navigating a new and unfamiliar life. Through the struggles, the story emphasizes the enduring love that binds them together, and the vibrant illustrations by Hyewon Yum beautifully capture the essence of their journey.
“The Bracelet” by Yoshiko Uchida
“The Bracelet” by Yoshiko Uchida is a powerful book that challenges the perception of those who were detained and imprisoned in internment camps during World War Two. Emi, the protagonist, receives a bracelet from her best friend to serve as a reminder while they are separated. When the bracelet goes missing, Emi realizes that true friendship transcends physical objects. This book serves as a reminder of inclusion and the profound impact of exclusion, making it not just a book for children, but a topic that resonates with readers of all ages.
“Suki’s Kimono” by Chieri Uegaki
“Suki’s Kimono” by Chieri Uegaki has been a cherished book on my shelf for years. It tells the story of Suki, a young girl who proudly wears her kimono to school despite her sisters’ disapproval. Suki’s confidence stems from the fact that her grandmother gifted her the kimono. This book not only promotes self-assurance but also explores the concept of being brave even when one isn’t entirely confident. It’s a tale that resonates with readers by highlighting the challenges of staying true to oneself, especially in the face of differing opinions.
“Sumo Joe” by Mia Wenjen
“Sumo Joe” by Mia Wenjen is an adorable book that introduces children to the world of sumo wrestling through rhymes and illustrations. It follows three friends practicing sumo wrestling at home until Joe’s younger sister unexpectedly joins in with her Aikido moves. This book not only entertains but also provides an opportunity to learn about both sumo wrestling and Aikido through a glossary included at the end.
“Apple Pie Fourth of July” by Janet S. Wong
“Apple Pie Fourth of July” by Janet S. Wong is a remarkable book that tastefully addresses complex issues through a children’s story. It delves into themes of first-generation identity and immigration. The protagonist, a young girl, feels disillusioned as her parents prepare Chinese food in their store on the Fourth of July, doubting that customers would want it on such a quintessential American holiday. This book not only provides insights into the resilience of immigrant families but also sparks conversations about cultural diversity and national pride.
“This Next New Year” by Janet Wong
“This Next New Year” by Janet Wong is an engaging book that introduces children to the traditions and festivities of Chinese New Year. The story follows a little boy and his experiences during this significant celebration. It’s a great resource for teaching young children about the differences between Chinese New Year and the New Year celebrated on January 1st. The illustrations capture the spirit of the festival, making this book highly enjoyable for preschool-age readers and older children.
“Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas” by Natasha Yim
“Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas” by Natasha Yim is a delightful twist on the classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears tale. Set against the backdrop of Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck is entrusted with delivering food to her neighbors. However, her curiosity leads her to get entangled in all sorts of predicaments. What sets this version apart is the addition of a meaningful resolution, where Goldy reflects on her actions and seeks to make amends. This book teaches children about responsibility and the importance of making things right.
“This is Our House” by Hyewon Yum
“This is Our House” by Hyewon Yum is a classroom favorite. Living in the Pacific Northwest, where rainy days are common, my students adore jumping in puddles and reading about them. This book portrays the story of a house that has been home to multiple generations of a family. It prompts preschoolers to discuss their own family dynamics, reflecting on how their homes have changed as they’ve grown. It’s an invaluable teaching tool that promotes family connections and understanding.
“Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten” by Hyewon Yum
“Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten” by Hyewon Yum is a deeply touching book that captures the range of emotions experienced by young children and their parents on this significant day. With its simple yet profound narrative, this book offers opportunities for meaningful discussions about first-day jitters, overcoming fear, and building confidence.
“Puddle” by Hyewon Yum
“Puddle” by Hyewon Yum is a class favorite, especially for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest. With abundant rainy days, my students can relate to the joy of jumping in puddles and exploring the rain. This book beautifully depicts a little girl’s transition from reluctance about going outside on a rainy day to embracing the spontaneity and adventure that await her.
“Saturday Is Swimming Day” by Hyewon Yum
“Saturday Is Swimming Day” by Hyewon Yum is a gem of a book. It’s something I wish I had when my children first started swim lessons. My kids were reluctant swimmers, despite living on an island. This book resonates with children who feel nervous about swimming lessons. The story follows a little girl who experiences tummy aches before her swim classes and lacks confidence. However, with the guidance of a patient teacher who doesn’t push her, she gains the confidence to float like a starfish. This book encourages children to overcome their fears and reminds them that it’s okay to take things at their own pace.
Share Your Recommendations!
Do you have any favorite picture books featuring Asian main characters that you wish I had included? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments! Let’s continue to cultivate a diverse and inclusive reading experience for children in our classrooms and beyond.
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