As parents, it is our duty to expose our children to the world around them, and that includes different cultures and beliefs. We believe stories are the next best thing to bridge the gap between cultures and diversity when real-life immersion is not possible.
Teaching children about differences in culture normalizes the fact that cultures, values, beliefs, and physical attributes vary, which leads to respect and understanding for these differences. Right around the time toddlers begin to learn their colors (around 2 to 2.5 years old) is when they begin noticing a difference in racial attributes. By the time children enter Kindergarten, they would’ve already formed their own personal biases based on their experiences and their family’s attitudes towards differences.
Although books can be powerful tools, nothing is as powerful as a parent or caregiver’s personal biases. Be attuned to how you perceive and react to different cultures and beliefs because very young children can and will quickly pick up on it! On that note, here are 10 books hand-selected for you to share and celebrate Asian culture with your little learner.
Bringing in the New Year
by Grace Lin
The tale of a Chinese American family as they prepare for the Lunar New Year. Each family member lends a hand as they sweep out the dust of the old year, hang decorations, and make dumplings. There will be fireworks and lion dancers, shining lanterns, and a great, long dragon parade at the end!
My First Chinese New Year
by Karen Katz
From the same author who brought us Mommy / Daddy Hugs and Where Is Baby’s Belly Button, children familiar with the author’s work will find comfort in the illustrations. The storyline is similar to Bringing in the New Year but includes a little more detail behind the traditions. This is better suited for families who do not have background knowledge of the Lunar New Year and some of the traditions surrounding the holiday.
by Alan Woo, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Poor Maggie struggles to master her chopsticks — it seems nearly everyone around the dinner table has something to say about the “right” way to hold them! But when Father reminds her not to worry about everyone else, Maggie finally gets a grip on an important lesson: the best way to hold your chopsticks is in your own way!
by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Katy Wu
This true story celebrates Joyce Chen, a girl born in Communist China, immigrated to the United States (Cambridge, MA). She discovered her entrepreneurial spirit through her passion for food and cooking and had a successful restaurant, TV show, and cookbook!
The story briefly touches upon Ms. Chen’s need to “Americanize” Chinese dishes to suit customer’s preconceived idea of “Chinese” dishes. The Americanization of Chinese food is a topic that is rarely talked about, let alone in a children’s picture book! Lastly, the beautifully colored illustrations make it a great book for both toddlers and older preschoolers to enjoy and you’ll be exposed to a handful of popular Chinese cuisine.
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes
written by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Grace Lin
A little girl’s neighborhood becomes a discovery ground of things round, square and rectangular. Many of the objects are Asian in origin, other universal: round rice bowls and a found pebble, square dim sum and pizza boxes, rectangular Chinese lace, and a very special pencil case.
Pro Tip: Did you know that the illustrator of this book, Grace Lin, is the same author as “Bringing in the New Year”? See if your child can find similarities between the two book’s illustrations! You can do this with similar children’s book authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, and Dr. Seuss. Sometimes authors love to leave little Easter eggs in their books.
Want more shape learning ideas? Check out the “I Can Match My Shapes” learning mats.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
A young Asian girl recognizes that her eyes are different from her peers and embraces them beautifully in this revolutionary story. She proudly accepts her eyes because they’re just like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. Eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.
This story is fully represented by females and as a mom to three boys, this story still fully resonates with my children. This book is truly a game-changer for Asian-American children where there aren’t many stories that poetically celebrate the heritage and beauty of Asian eyes.
A New Year’s Reunion
by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang
This fictional story is about a little girl, Maomao, whose father works far away and can only visit for New Year. Although the story takes place in China, the lives of the children in the story can resonate with children universally. When it snows, they have snowball fights and build snowmen. When Maomao thought she lost the special coin Papa gave her, another one that looks the same is not the same as the one she lost!
Although the family in the story is fictional, the author notes that this is a reality for a lot of families in China where there are over 100 million migrant workers. As a grown-up reading this, you’ll empathize with the illustrations of Maomao’s mom where her sorrow can be seen as Papa prepares to depart again.
The Name Jar
by Yangsook Choi
Unhei just immigrated to America from Korea. On the first day of school, she is embarrassed by her name after her peers have trouble pronouncing it and even go as far as making fun of it on the bus. She tells her teacher and class that she doesn’t have a name yet and will let them know next week. The class wants to help out and starts filling a glass jar with potential names. In the end, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it.
If you’re familiar with the story Chrysanthemum by Kevin Kenkes, this story has the same theme of loving your unique name. Although the themes in this story are told directly with some light humor, preschoolers can easily connect with Unhei and all the emotions that she went through.
The Dinner that Cooked Itself
by J.C. Hsyu & Kenard Pak
Long, long ago, in a small town in ancient China, there lived an honest and respectful man called Tuan. Tuan was lonely and looked hard for a wife; one night, however, Tuan’s luck changed. This beautiful and enchanting Chinese fairytale will captivate the imagination with the perfect blend of magic and realism! The themes in the story and heavy plot are better suited for Pre-K.
Pro Tip: If reading with younger children, modify the story by reading a portion of the story or looking at the pictures.
Henry and the Kite Dragon
by Bruce Edward Hall, illustrated by William Low
In this touching story based on true 1920’s events, two rival groups of children representing two different cultures come face to face, and when they do, they find they share much more than just the same sky.
This story is best suited for older preschoolers and up because of its heavy story line and realistic illustrations.
Sheryll is the proud mom to 3 boys (1, 5, and 12-years-old) and wife to her better half. She is the founder and CEO of TigerKubz and is on a mission to empower parents with tools to easily engage their little learners. When Sheryll is not thinking of creative ways to make learning experiences of everyday life, changing diapers, or chasing after her kids, you may find her in the kitchen trying out new recipes, attempting to fish on a nice day, or jamming out to Disney singalongs with Alexa.