Anyone who knows me knows that I love books. Goodness, we own so many children’s books, we actually created a Dewey Decimal System for our home library so that we can find them!
Thankfully both of my girls also love reading and books and all things literary. This list reflects many of my oldest daughter’s favorites with adoption and/or Asian-American themes. She’s a twelve-year-old Chinese adoptee who loves baking, reading, writing short stories and fashion.
Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback (Cybils Finalist and WLT Texas Book Award Finalist)
Babo is the self-appointed leader of the “leftover children” who live on an abandoned circus camp. They need her, so Babo is not at all happy when an American couple wants to adopt her and change her name to Betti. But soon odd and crazy America is where she lives – with new parents and a little sister, strange foods and all kinds of people speaking words she cannot understand. Betti on the High Wire shares Babo’s story from days before meeting her future adoptive parents through her first month in her new home. Funny, heartbreaking and real, it’s a must-read for adoptees. (4th to 8th grade).
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. (Amazon.com Book of the Year, Bank Street Best Children’s Books, Publisher’s Weekly Book of the Year, and School Library Journal Book of the Year)
Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends, but that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel, an Indian-American girl adopted by white parents, to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind. (4th to 8th grade)
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Clara Lee is a typical third grader who dreams of becoming Little Miss Apple Pie at her town’s apple festival. Some kids tell her she’s not “American enough” to win the title because of her Korean heritage, but Clara Lee proves them wrong in the end. When she isn’t wrestling with what it means to be an American, Clara Lee is dealing with the ups and downs of being an older sister, a friend, a daughter and a granddaughter. I love this book because it’s sweet and funny, and because the Tongginator quoted it during our tour of Tiananmen Square in June 2011: “it’s hotter than kimchi today!” This was one of the Tongginator’s favorites when she was younger! What initially attracted her to this book was that – just like she did – the main character had two names (one Western, one Chinese). (1st grade and up)
The Dirt Diary and its sequels by Anna Staniszewski
Rachel can’t believe she has to give up her Saturdays to scrub other people’s toilets! Ever since her Mom and Dad divorced, life’s been kind of gross. Becoming a maid in her Mom’s cleaning business is not helping her loserish reputation AT ALL, but then Rachel starts picking up more than just smelly socks on the job. She starts learning the secrets of some of the most popular kids in eighth grade. Now her formerly boring diary is filled with juicy secrets. When her crush offers to pay her to spy on his girlfriend, Rachel has to decide whether or not she is willing to get her hands dirty. Definitely one of the Tongginator’s favorites – she loves how funny it is, and adores (and relates to!) Rachel’s clumsiness and awkwardness. (5th grade and up)
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Finalist, CCBC Choices, Cybils Finalist, and a NCTE/CLA Notable Children’s Book)
Lucy Wu, aspiring athlete and interior designer, is so excited for sixth grade! She’s going out for captain of the basketball team; and she can’t wait to take over redesigning the bedroom she’s always shared with her sister. Then she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother’s sister, is coming to stay with them for several months – and she’s staying in Lucy’s bedroom! Lucy’s 6th grade year is ruined now – or is it? This is one of the Tongginator’s favorites – she most enjoys Lucy’s interactions with her annoying great-aunt. (4th to 8th grade)
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Winner of the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Book, and a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Nominee)
Up until now, ten-year-old Ha has only known the sights and sounds of Saigon. But now the Vietnam War is closing in around Ha’s home, and her family is forced to flee as Saigon falls, heading to safety in America. Ha’s family ends up in Alabama, and her first year in her new home is filled with change, grief, dreams and healing. Written in short free-verse poems, and based on Lai’s personal experience, Lai’s first novel captures a child refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. (4th to 8th grade)
Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent
Joseph is a 14-year-old boy who walks through life with a great sense of humor and tremendous optimism until his social studies teacher completely stresses him out with a 1,500 word paper called “Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay.” Joseph was adopted from Korea as an infant by his very Italian parents. They are supportive, loving parents but bad at talking with him about his adoption. Joseph is left in a quandary when his parents just assume that writing about their Italian ancestors will suffice. He does some investigating on his own with the help of his best friend and a new boy who recently moved to the area from Korea. And in the end, Joseph’s parents do come through for him. The Tongginator really identified with a school assignment not quite fitting her life experiences – she’s had this situation happen a handful of times, so she related to his conflict.
Millicent Min is a hysterical book that keeps you laughing! She is an eleven-year-old genius caught between two worlds: her peers, and her classmates at the local high school. All she wants is to feel normal, but it’s kind of difficult to do that when everyone thinks you’re not. Then she meets Emily, who doesn’t know Millicent’s IQ score – Emily, who treats Millicent like she’s cool. Afraid to lose her very first friend, Millicent does everything she can to maintain the status quo, including blackmailing Stanford Wong into keeping quiet and lying to just about everyone. Can she keep all of her lies straight? Standford Wong Flunks Big-time is a great book as well, as it explores peer pressure and stereotypes about Asian-Americans. The Tongginator loved how funny this book is, but also found it a tad difficult to read because of some higher level vocabulary and concepts. (5th grade and up)
Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (CCBC Choices, Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, Four state awards, including the Texas Bluebonnet Master List, and nine additional state nominations)
Julia Song and her friend Patrick want to team up to win a blue ribbon at the state fair, but they can’t agree on the perfect animal husbandry project. Then Julia’s mother suggests raising silkworms like she did as a girl, but Julia wants to avoid doing something so “Korean.” Patrick, however, loves the idea and convinces Julia to move ahead with the silkworm project. When Julia later realizes that the worms must die in order to get the silk, her tears show how much her heart changed. Julia also ponders issues of race when her mother doesn’t want her to spend “too much time” with kind Mr. Dixon, who gave the kids mulberry leaves for their silkworms. Is it because he’s black? The Tongginator loved that’s Julia’s best friend is a boy and also found fascinating the task of raising silkworms. (4th to 8th grade)
Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock (Parents Choice Recommendation, Notable Book for a Global Society, and a Massachusetts state “Must Read”)
Wen feels excited about being adopted by a family in Massachusetts, but she is torn because she worries about her best friend Shu-Ling, who remains in the orphanage. Wen slowly adjusts to life in America while remaining committed to finding a family for Shu-Ling. She navigates relationship troubles with her new American friend Hannah and new sister Emily throughout her search. Will Shu-Ling find a family? The Tongginator loved reading about Wen’s adjustment to life in America, and really related to her longing to help a friend who remained in China. (5th grade and up)
Slant by Laura Williams
The author Laura Williams, a Korean adoptee herself, tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lauren Wallace, a Korean adoptee who is the only Asian-American in her suburban Connecticut middle school. Lauren goes through typical thirteen-year-old milestones such as getting her ears pierced, buying her first bra, arguing with her father, and longing to be asked to the school dance. But she also deals with not-so-typical things like finding out why her adoptive mother died three years ago and debating with herself whether or not to get cosmetic eye surgery. Maybe having the surgery will stop the kids at school from relentlessly taunting her with racial slurs like “gook,” “chink” and “slant.” Or maybe what Lauren needs to do is find the confidence within herself to stand up to her tormenters. The Tongginator really related to the racial teasing and bullying that Lauren experienced in the book. She also identified with the main character’s relationship with her much younger sister. (4th grade to 8th grade)
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (Winner of the National Book Award)
Twelve-year-old Summer knows that there is bad luck, good luck and making your own luck – which is exactly what she must do to keep her family together while her parents visit Japan. Her grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, come out of retirement to bring in the harvest and care for Summer and her younger brother, but they are so old, they need a lot of help. Then a boy begins paying more and more attention to Summer, but the once welcome distraction soon becomes a mess all its own. How will Summer survive this summer? (5th grade and up)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Newberry Honor Book, Indies Choice Book Award Finalist, Parent’s Choice Gold Winner, CCBC Choices, and an E.B. White Read Aloud Honor Book)
Living in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain, Minli and her parents spend their days working in the rice fields, barely growing enough to feed themselves. Every night, Minli’s father tells her stories about the Jade Dragon that keeps the mountain bare, the greedy and mean Magistrate Tiger, and the Old Man of the Moon who holds everyone’s destiny. Determined to change her family’s fortune, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon, urged on by a talking goldfish who gives her clues to complete her journey. Along the way she makes new friends including a flightless dragon and an orphan and proves her resourcefulness when she tricks a group of greedy monkeys and gets help from a king. This is honestly the only fantasy book the Tongginator has ever willingly read. She typically hates fantasies. (3rd – 4th grade)
The Year of the Book and its sequels by Andrea Cheng (Junior Library Guild Selection, Bank Street College Best Books List)
The Tongginator absolutely loves this series – she continued to reread them until end of fourth grade! All Anna Wang knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When her best friend Laura starts hanging out with other girls, Anna turns to books to keep her company. But books can tell her only so much about how to make and keep a best friend, so Anna has to go a step further to learn what true friendship means. In the second book of the series, Anna focuses on becoming a great big sister when her parents adopt a baby from China. These are more Tongginator favorites – she strongly related to the main character, what with loving to read, struggling to navigate friendships and becoming a big sister to a Chinese adoptee. She also loved reading about their visits with their grandma. (1st to 4th grade)
The Year of the Dog and its sequels by Grace Lin (ALA Children’s Notable, Asian Pacific American Librarian Association Honor, NAPPA Gold Winner, CCBC Choice, and five state award nominations, including the NCCB)
It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog, and as Pacy celebrates the holiday with her family, she learns that this is the year she’s supposed to “find herself” and make new friends. These books are some of the more popular featuring a Chinese-American protagonist. If you only get one series, this is the one the Tongginator and I would recommend! She feels that many girls, not just Chinese-American girls, can relate to Pacy’s journey of growing up and finding herself. (3rd to 5th grade)