Beyond Stereotypes: 2021 AAPI Books for Young Readers
More than the stereotype of the docile smart student that sits in the back row and lives for math and science, the AAPI community has taken it upon themselves to rewrite outdated characters in favor of vibrant multifaceted ones that encapsulate their contemporary experiences—written by and for AAPI individuals who weren’t able to find themselves in popular media. As shown by the myriad of AAPI children’s and YA authors and their stories—from struggles with self-identity, fitting in with the crowd, the joys of rediscovering and sharing culture, and contributing to society—every AAPI has a distinct story to tell. Here we have collected some of the year’s new and forthcoming titles that celebrate the AAPI experience, strength, and resilience no matter the circumstance. The recent rise in hate crimes toward AAPI continues to shake the community, but stories like these serve as a reminder of joy and belonging.
Picture Books and Graphic Novels
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illus. by Dung Ho (HarperCollins, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-06-291562-7)
An Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her friends’ and begins to wish for eyes that are like theirs, until she realizes that her eyes are like her family’s: filled with stories of the past and hope for the future. See our profile on Joanna Ho’s bestselling picture book debut.
Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani, illus. by Holly Hatam (Little, Brown, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-316-49530-1)
A Sikh father and daughter with a special hair bond proudly celebrate and share a family tradition. Every morning Papa combs through his daughter's waves like he does his own. Her favorite style is when he combs her hair in a tight bun on the top of her head, just like the joora he wears every day under his turban.
I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illus. by Julia Kuo (Roaring Brook, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-24931-9)
When a girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to San Diego, they leave behind the narrator’s maternal grandmother, Popo. This story touches on learning a new language, acclimating to a new home, and the changing relationship the child maintains with Popo even while apart.
My First Day by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huy'nh Kim Liên (Make Me a World, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-593-30626-0)
The rainy season has come to the Mekong Delta, and An, a Vietnamese boy, sets out alone in a wooden boat wearing a little backpack and armed only with a single oar. Although daunted by the unknown, An realizes that his efforts will be worth it when he reaches his destination.
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illus. by Julie Kwon (Little, Brown, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-7595-5495-5
The picture book biography focuses on Hazel Ying Lee, the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. When people scoffed at her dreams of becoming a pilot, Hazel wouldn't take no for an answer; she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.
When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling, illus. by Aaron Asis (HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-297285-9)
For one girl, summer doesn’t start until her lola—her grandmother from the Philippines—comes for her annual visit. Her lola fills the house with the aroma of mango jam and her quiet, sweet singing in Tagalog. The whole family gathers to share in their happiness of another season spent together.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illus. by Jason Chin. (Holiday House/Porter, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-8234-4624-7)
Driving through Ohio, a girl’s parents stop the car when they spot watercress growing wild by the side of the road, and the family wades into the muck to collect as much as they can. First, the girl is embarrassed, but when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate what they foraged. See our In Conversation with Wang and Chin.
All You Knead Is Love by Tanya Guerrero (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-374-31423-1)
Alba, who is one quarter Filipino and one quarter Spanish, doesn't want to live with her estranged grandmother, Lola Abuela, in Barcelona. She wants to stay with her mother, even if that means enduring her father’s abuse. But in her new home, Alba forms a close relationship with Lola Abuela, discovers a talent for baking, and gets to know the city her mother used to call home.
Amina’s Song by Hena Khan (S&S/Salaam Reads, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-5988-5)
In this companion novel to Amina’s Voice, it is the last few days of vacation in Lahore, Pakistan and Amina is excited to share her experience with her friends back home in Wisconsin. But her friends don’t seem interested. When she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. Amina wonders how she can share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen. See our q&a with Khan here.
Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (Quill Tree, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-300888-5)
Li’s debut middle grade novel is about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to questions bigger than yourself. If there is anything Ro loves more than watching rockets being launched, it’s building them with her father, until he is unexpectedly killed. When Ro and Benji become science partners at school, they become unlikely friends and grow together facing bullying, grief, and their own differences.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh (HarperCollins, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-06-298798-3)
While facing racist vandalism at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out. When her teacher assigns an oral history project, Junie learns of her grandparents’ experiences as lost children during the Korean War and finds her inner strength, just as her grandparents did.
Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-374-31374-6)
Millie Nakakura is starting sixth grade at a real school for the first time in her life, and making friends is trickier than expected. When she spots a flyer for an after-school club for fans of Japanese pop music, Millie begins to find her place with this crew of misfits.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna (Viking, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-593-20697-3)
Kiki has always been a worrier, but the thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Her sketchbook is full of doodles depicting the rich Indian legends her mother has told her over the years. One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters spring to life and Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew.
Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq (Amulet, $22.99, ISBN 978-1-4197-4016-9)
In this middle-grade graphic novel, a Bangladeshi American girl is the victim of a hate crime on her way home from school. Deeply traumatized, she spends the summer only leaving her house for therapy. The night before her freshman year at a new school, she decides to start wearing hijab, to the dismay of her family. This puts her on a path to discovering more about Islam, her family’s complicated relationship with the religion, and the reasons they left Bangladesh.
Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi (Mango & Marigold, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-64543-763-5)
After a fight with her twin brother, Rohan, who goes missing, Rea’s life in the village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. Her grandmother is also behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on Rohan, Rea meets a fortuneteller whose powers of divination set her off on a secret quest.
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (Quill Tree, $16.99; ISBN 978-0-06-304742-6)
Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family and close community. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted. Reha feels especially disconnected from her mother, or Amma. Then Reha finds out that her Amma is very sick.
Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva (Scholastic Press, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-338-63092-3)
In this tale steeped in Villanueva’s Filipino culture, Jolina can't take Claudine's bullying any longer. Though Jolina knows she's still in training to use her grandfather's arbularyo magic, she brews a batch of gayuma, a powerful love potion to use on Claudine as revenge. But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns.
Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flames by Supriya Kelkar (Tu, $21.95, ISBN 978-1-64379-040-4)
In 1857 India, Meera escapes a life she has no say in only to end up a servant to a British general in the East India Company. When a rebellion against British colonizers spreads, she must choose between safety in a British household or standing up for herself and her people.
The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook (Peachtree, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-68263-285-7)
Chaya must play Robin Hood for her impoverished community, but when she steals the queen’s jewels a messy getaway jeopardizes a friend’s life. After a haphazard prison break, Chaya barely escapes on the king’s prized elephant into the lush Sri Lankan jungles.
That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-6673-9)
An Indian American girl’s world turns upside down when she involuntarily starts bursting into glamorous song-and-dance routines during everyday life.
The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim (Disney/Rick Riordan Presents, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-368-05963-3)
Riley can't wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister's footsteps, she's a saram—a person without magic. Then Hattie gets an idea: what if they cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie's powers?
The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang (Kokila, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-593-11128-4)
Meilan’s world has a few key ingredients: a family matriarch, Nai Nai; the family bakery in Boston’s Chinatown; and her Chinese fairy tales. After Nai Nai dies, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather in search of a new home in Redbud, Ohio.
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi (HarperCollins, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-06-304470-8)
When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Ga., she wants to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts.
We Belong by Cookie Hiponia Everman (Dial, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-593-11220-5)
Stella and Luna know that their mother came from the Philippines when she was a child. One night they ask her to tell them her story. As they get ready for bed, their Mama spins two tales: that of her youth as a strong-willed middle child and immigrant; and that of the life of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god.
While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown (Quill Tree, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-06-301711-5)
When Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand basic Japanese, they send her to Tokyo to live with her strict grandmother. Waka flies across the globe from rural Kansas, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le (Simon & Schuster, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-4193-4)
In this romantic comedy, two Vietnamese American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing neighboring restaurants. See our q&a with debut author Le.
A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen (Razorbill, $17.99; ISBN 978-0-593-11752-1)
High school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. But compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is rebellious and determined to push back against their mother’s traditional dating values. When Liza agrees to help at the family bakery’s junior competition, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.
American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar (Knopf, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-984897-15-2)
Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Ill., to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself.
Anna K Away by Jenny Lee (Flatiron, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-23646-3)
In this sequel to Anna K, the former golden girl of Greenwich, Conn., and New York City has been brought low by a scandalous sex tape and the tragic death of her first love, and is now in South Korea to connect with her family. Set during one summer, the story also features familiar characters Lolly, Steven, Kimmie, Dustin, and Bea.
Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan (Inkyard, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-335-20997-9)
Karina has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents travel to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
From Little Tokyo, with Love by Sarah Kuhn (Viking, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-593-32748-7)
If Rika’s life seems like the beginning of a fairy tale, she would be the first to reject that notion. After all, her biracial background doesn’t quite fit the princess mold. That changes when she sees Grace Kimura, America’s rom-com sweetheart, setting off a chain of events to find her long-lost mother and a sense of belonging.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar (Page Street, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-64567-257-9)
Everyone likes Hani―she’s the most popular girl at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she has only dated guys. Panicked, Hani says she is in a relationship with academic overachiever Ishu, a girl her friends absolutely hate. When Ishu agrees to help Hani, they start to develop real feelings for each other. But some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from being together.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7352-6993-4)
Chinese history and mecha science blend together in this fantasy. The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing with girls to pilot Chrysalises, robots that battle the mecha aliens lurking beyond the Great Wall, but at the cost of the girls’ lives. When Zetian offers herself up, it’s to assassinate the male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. After she gets vengeance in an unexpected way, she is determined to fight the misogynist system and stop the sacrifice of more girls.
Jade Fire and Gold by C.L. Tan (HarperTeen, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-305636-7)
In this debut novel inspired by Chinese mythology, Ahn is a nobody, with no past and no family. Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child. When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her lethal magical abilities.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Dutton, $18.99; ISBN 978-0-525-55525-4)
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
Luck of the Titanic by Stacy Lee (Putnam, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-5247-4098-6)
Valora has two things: a ticket for the most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life as a circus performer. Much to her surprise, she’s turned away at the gangway because Chinese people aren’t allowed into America. But there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it. She’ll need that determination more than ever when disaster strikes the ship.
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk (Simon & Schuster, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-7437-6)
Valerie has made a name for herself selling K-beauty products at school to help fund a trip to Paris with her halmeoni. But when the new kid in class threatens to upend her beauty business with one of his own, Valerie refuses to go down without a fight.
Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach (HarperCollins/Tegen, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-06-303836-3)
An ambitious Chinese Vietnamese American girl finds herself trapped between leading a feminist movement and falling for her patriarchal enemy.
Sisters of the Snake by Sarena Nanua and Sasha Nanua (HarperTeen, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-298559-0)
This debut fantasy is inspired by the co-authors’ (twin sisters) Indian heritage. Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive. When their lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical. A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim (Knopf, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-593-30091-6)
In this fantasy drawing from “The Wild Swans” and East Asian folklore, Shiori’anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. But when she loses control and is banished by her stepmother who also turns the princess’ brothers into cranes, Shiori must search for her brothers while uncovering a dark conspiracy to seize the throne.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He (Roaring Brook, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-25856-4)
In this story that centers on Asian sisterhood and family, Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (Flatiron, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-76660-1)
Izumi (“Izzy”) has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, California town. But Izzy discovers that her previously unknown father is the Crown Prince of Japan. In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet her father and discover the country she always dreamed of. Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough.
Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi (Simon & Schuster, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-4600-7)
Sisters Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together don’t want anything to do with each other anymore. That is, until June gets cancer and Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (Wednesday, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-76203-0)
Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail. And Sam picks up the phone.
XOXO by Axie Oh (HarperTeen, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-302499-1)
Cello prodigy Jenny finds herself falling for a K-pop idol who isn’t allowed to date, and has to decide whether their love is worth the risk.
Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-338-58087-7)
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become U.S. citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them. See our q&a with Khan about the personal story behind her new novel.