Celebrating api voices engaging children with api picture books.

Celebrating AAPI Voices: Engaging Children with AAPI Picture Books

The term AAPI, for Asian American and Pacific Islanders, encompasses various cultures, languages, and stories from across Asia and the Pacific Islands. This post explores the value of using AAPI picture books to promote cultural awareness, empathy, and representation in literature. These books are not just about telling stories; they’re about opening windows to different worlds, breaking down stereotypes, and celebrating the rich tapestry of AAPI cultures. 

A group of asian children laughing together.

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Understanding AAPI Identity: An Introduction to Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultures

The term “AAPI” stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. The acronym typically refers to people, particularly in the United States, of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. If we consider the regions that the term AAPI encompasses, it would include:

Asian Countries

  • East Asia e.g., China, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan
  • Southeast Asia e.g., Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei
  • South Asia e.g., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives
  • Central Asia e.g., Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan

Pacific Islander regions, which include:

  • Polynesia e.g., Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Hawaii, New Zealand [Māori], French Polynesia
  • Micronesia e.g., Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau
  • Melanesia e.g., Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia

The AAPI label highlights these groups’ diverse cultural, linguistic, and historical backgrounds. It’s used in various contexts, including social, political, and academic discussions, to acknowledge and address these communities’ unique experiences, challenges, and contributions.

Breaking Stereotypes: The Role of AAPI Picture Books in Education

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are diverse people with unique cultures, traditions, and experiences. They have contributed to culture and history, but their stories are often underrepresented. 

Teaching about AAPI people and their cultures helps challenge stereotypes and promote empathy and respect for different cultures.

AAPI picture books are engaging and visually appealing, helping children relate to new perspectives and expand their worldview. They offer a visual representation of the culture and traditions of AAPI communities. 

Three muslim girls looking at a book.

Learning Through Stories: The Educational Value of AAPI Children's Books

Using picture books to teach about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and people offers several benefits:

  • Cultural Representation: Picture books with AAPI themes or characters provide representation, helping children from these communities see themselves in the stories and fostering a sense of belonging and identity.
  • Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity: For children not from AAPI backgrounds, these books are a window into different cultures, promoting understanding, respect, and inclusivity.
  • Historical and Cultural Education: They can be used to teach about the history, traditions, and achievements of AAPI communities, providing a broader understanding of their contributions to society.
  • Breaking Stereotypes: AAPI-themed picture books can challenge and dismantle stereotypes by presenting diverse and authentic narratives.
  • Visual Learning: The illustrations in picture books can make the learning experience more engaging and memorable. They can also help convey cultural nuances and traditions in an easily understandable way.
  • Simplified Understanding: Picture books often present complex ideas in a simple and accessible manner, making it easier for young children to grasp the concepts of cultural diversity and heritage.
  • Developing Empathy: By presenting stories from various AAPI perspectives, picture books can help children develop empathy and understanding for people whose experiences differ from their own.

Picture books about AAPI communities and people are powerful tools in fostering cultural awareness, empathy, and diversity education from a young age.

Two children sitting on the grass reading a book.

Discussion Starters: Engaging Questions for AAPI Picture Book

  • How did the characters in the book demonstrate their culture and traditions?
  • What values and beliefs did the characters demonstrate?
  • How does this book challenge stereotypes?
  • How is the culture portrayed in this book different from your own?
  • What did you learn about the culture or traditions of the characters in this book?
  • How are the characters’ lives similar to or different from your own? 
  • What did the illustrations in the book show you about the characters’ environment or lifestyle?
  • Can you identify any food, clothing, or festivals in the story that are new to you? 
  • Did you notice any words or phrases from a different language in the book? What do you think they mean?
  • How did the family or community in the book support each other? 
  • What challenges did the characters face, and how did they overcome them?


Suggested AAPI Picture Books

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh

Sundar Paliwal thought it important for boys and girls to be treated equally. But in his village, only boys were celebrated at birth. So Sundar quit his job and became the leader of Piplantri. He asked the villagers to plant 111 trees whenever a girl was born. 

These trees gave the villagers food, water, and jobs for women. Paliwal wanted to show that everyone can work together to help the environment, empower women, and build a stronger community.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

Amy Wu is determined to make the perfect bao bun. Despite her repeated failed attempts, Amy does not give up on her dream and keeps trying until she finally succeeds in making the perfect bao with the help of her family.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao explores perseverance, shared experiences, family, a growth mindset and trying until we succeed.

The Bath House by Kyo Maclear

A girl visits a traditional bath house in Japan with her grandmother and aunts during her summer vacation. This annual ritual is a joyful journey filled with warmth, love, and bonding. The bath house itself acts as a space for the family to connect, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance.

The Bath House explores Japanese cultural traditions, family connections, and body positivity.

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed

Bilal invites his friends to help cook a traditional Daal dish. Amidst his excitement, Bilal worries about his friends’ reactions to this cultural experience. Bilal’s experiences remind us that sharing our cultural traditions with others can foster understanding, create bonds, and celebrate our unique heritages.

Bilal Cooks Daal promotes discussions on cultural diversity, patience, community building, and making connections. 

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A father and son navigate the meeting of two distinct cultures. Inspired by the author’s childhood in Minneapolis, the reader sees the challenges and triumphs of adapting to life in a new country.

The book explores the immigrant experience, resilience in unfamiliar circumstances, the power of family bonds and adaptability in the face of change and unfamiliarity.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

A boy and his grandfather cannot communicate through words due to language differences. They discover a shared love for art, transforming their interactions from frustrating silence to vibrant storytelling.

Drawn Together explores communication, open-mindedness, and identity and emphasises the power of making connections through non-verbal communication.

Dumpling Dreams by Carrie Clickard

Born in Communist China, Joyce Chen later immigrated to the United States. Through determination, she popularised Chinese food, her childhood passion, in America, eventually authoring a cookbook and hosting a TV show.

Dumpling Dreams promotes discussions on cultural exchange, resilience, innovation, and following one’s passion.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

An Asian girl takes pride in her distinct physical trait – eyes that kiss in the corners, like her mother, grandmother, and little sister. Read ‘Eyes That Kiss in the Corner’ to foster discussions on self-affirmation and self-love, personal identity, empowerment, self-esteem, and making connections within and across cultures. 

Eyes That Kiss in the Corner encourages self-appreciation and the importance of embracing one’s identity.

Fly Free! by Roseanne Thong

Mai loves feeding caged birds at a Buddhist temple in Vietnam. She dreams that one day, she will see them fly free. Thu shares the joy of feeding the birds with her, setting off a chain reaction of good deeds that leads to the birds’ release.

Fly Free! explores kindness, compassion, positive actions, and the Buddhist philosophy of karma and cause and effect.

Friends Are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, Dandan and her best friend, Yueyue, share the tradition of making red snowflakes. With a spool of red thread and red paper gifted by Yueyue, Dandan finds solace and continuity in her new home.

Friends Are Friends, Forever explores themes of immigration, adaptability, and the value of friendships and the traditions of the Lunar New Year.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram

A girl is on a mission to find the perfect gift for her mother at a bustling market in southern India. Her journey takes her through a vibrant rainbow of sights, sounds and smells as she explores and considers different gifts for her Amma.

A Gift for Amma celebrates the rich cultural heritage of India and explores family, love, and the joy of giving. 

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki

Despite being a beginner, Hana signs up to play her violin at her school’s talent show. She practices to perfect her performance, but her brothers laugh and tell her she cannot do it. Hana persists and surprises everyone with her talent and confidence.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin explores courage, self-confidence, determination in facing challenges, perseverance, and a growth mindset.

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi

Rock-climbing champion Ashima views every rock as a problem to be solved and uses her courage, determination, and analytical skills to overcome obstacles. She falls many times but learns from each fall, improving her strategy and technique. 

How to Solve a Problem illustrates the problem-solving process, showing that every setback is a step toward success. It encourages readers to view challenges as problems that can be solved with patience, analysis, and repeated attempts.

The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury

Asiya discovers her Bangladeshi heritage through her grandmother’s (Nanu’s) chest filled with katha, traditional Bangladeshi quilts. Each quilt holds a unique story, reflecting the brave and compelling history of the women in Asiya’s family who once wore them.

The Katha Chest encourages conversations around family traditions and how they shape our understanding of who we are.

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila discovers the beauty of self-acceptance and the importance of embracing her heritage. Guided by her grandmother, Leila explores her unique identity as a Pakistani American, celebrating the characteristics that make her who she is.

Leila in Saffron encourages students to celebrate their individuality, embrace diverse cultures, cultivate a sense of belonging and understand and appreciate one’s own heritage.

Lon Po Po by Ed Young

Lon Po Po is a Chinese rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. Three sisters are left at home by their mother, and a wolf visits them. The youngest sister unknowingly allows the wolf in, and it’s up to the elder sisters to outwit the beast and ensure their safety.

The book invites comparison and contrast with other versions of the classic fairy tale while sparking discussions on courage, quick thinking, and the strength of family bonds.

Lotus and Feather by Ji-li Jiang

Lotus cannot speak and lives with her grandfather in the rural marshlands. When she rescues an injured crane near the shore of a nearby lake, she names him Feather. As Lotus nurses Feather back to health, she finds companionship and joy.

Lotus and Feather explores showing kindness, resilience, loneliness and disability, communicating without speech, and friendships healing power.

Mama's Saris by Pooja Makhijani