I’m a huge fan of books by authors of Asian descent — Asian middle-grade books are no exception. For this list, I’ve curated a wide range of stories written and about people of Asian descent — including South Asia and the Middle East. I have so many favorites on this list and try to update it yearly with new books!
To the best of my ability, I tried to make sure all the authors on this list fit the criteria of being of Asian descent. I’ve also included a few graphic novels and chapter books for newer readers. Although I do not read fantasy, I’ve included a few books in the genre for any who might be interested.
📚 Disclaimer in the books: Just so you know, Reading Middle Grade uses affiliate links. This means that when you shop via the links in our posts, we may earn a cent or two at no extra cost to you. Thanks for adding to our book buying fund.
Here are 100+ best Asian middle grade books:
New Asian Middle Grade Books
Call Me Adnan
Published: June 13, 2023
Adnan loves table tennis, his family, and the aviation alphabet. He’s color blind, left-handed and has a big sister and little brother, with another sibling on the way. When his family take a summer trip so he can compete in a tennis tournament, an unbelievable tragedy occurs, shattering their life as they know it.
The verse format is enjoyable and provides a wide enough window into the plot and characters. Most importantly, this story is very hopeful, despite the tragedy. If you love verse novels and don’t mind a tearjerker, this is a perfect summer story for you. Content warnings for sibling loss and child drowning.
Published: February 28, 2023
Lina is finally moving to the US to reunite with her parents after five years apart. She’d been living with her grandmother in China, but now her grandmother is ill, and her parents want her to come to North Carolina with them and her little sister Millie. But when she arrives, nothing about their life is as her parents have told her. They live in an apartment, not a house like her mom said and her parents owe a ton of back rent after the pandemic.
This is a moving, inspiring, and insightful middle grade book about immigration, family, and sisterhood. It’s also a relatable portrait of a family wading through murky financial waters and a kid finding confidence at school. Fans of Kelly Yang and Front Desk, and kids who enjoy books about immigration and book activism will gobble this one up.
The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
Packed with humor and heart, this debut middle grade series follows a girl finding her place in a brand-new world of private school and frenemies when her family moves to Hong Kong. The sequel is out now.
Published: May 16, 2023
Ten-year-old Geetanjali doesn’t mind singing, but she knows she’ll never be as good as her mother, Aai, or grandmother, Aaji, famous classical singers from India whose celebrity has followed the family all the way to their small town of Deadwood, Michigan, where Geetanjali lives with her aai, and father, Baba.
After freezing on stage during a concert performance, Geetanjali adds “fear of singing” to her list of fears, a list that seems to be multiplying daily. Aai tries to stress the importance of using one’s voice and continuing to sing; Geetanjali hopes that when her Aaji, comes to visit this summer, she’ll be able to help her.
But when they pick Aaji up at the airport, she’s not alone. Lata, an auntie Geetanjali has never met before is with Aaji and their neighbor, Heena Auntie, who is acting strange and mean, and not like the warm auntie she normally is. Lata Auntie has heard all about Geetanjali’s family, growing up in India. She knows Aai and Aaji are the only ones who can sing raag Naagshakti. Aai plays it off, but Geetanjali thinks back to the raag in the binder that started with an N that had been torn out. She has never heard of Raag Naagshakti, which sounds like it is about the power of cobras.
Geetanjali is determined not to let her imagination get the best of her and add aunties to her list of fears, but she can’t help but wonder about the connection between the missing raag, Heena Auntie’s cold behavior, and their interesting summer visitor.
The Many Masks of Andy Zhou
Published: June 6, 2023
Andy Zhou is used to being what people need him to be: the good kid for his parents and now grandparents visiting from Shanghai, or the helpful sidekick to his best friend Cindy’s rebellious plans and schemes.
So when Cindy decides they should try out for Movement at school on the first day of sixth grade, how can Andy say no? But between feeling out of place with the dancers, being hassled by his new science partner Jameel, and sensing tension between his dad and grandfather, Andy feels all kinds of weird.
Then, over anime, Hi-Chews, and Andy’s lizard-inspired artwork, things shift between him and Jameel, opening up new doors—and also new complications.
No matter how much Andy cares about his friends and family, it’s hard not to feel pulled between all the ways he’s meant to be, all the different faces he wears, and harder still to figure out if any of these masks is the real him.
Published: March 28, 2023
After a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Amie’s Baaba (with whom she had a close relationship) dies, leaving her with the mother she feels disconnected from. After his death, Amie can’t seem to find her way back to playing the violin — something that connected her with her dad. The book chronicles her path through grief and finding her way back to music and building a new connection with her mom. It’s an understandably sad, but moving story about friendship, community, music, and grief.
You Are Here: Connecting Flights
Published: March 7, 2023
You Are Here: Connecting Flights is an excellent collection of interconnected short stories about the wide range of the Asian-American experience. It explores the prejudice that people of Asian descent continue to experience. This is a stunning piece of literature that is accessible, informative, moving, and inspiring for kids and adults of all ages.
Morning Sun in Wuhan
Published: November 8, 2022
Morning Sun in Wuhan is a fascinating, insightful middle grade account depicting the genesis of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan. Featuring a female protagonist who loves video games and cooking, this is a great pick for those looking for books with strong female protagonists. It’s also one of those unique middle grade books actually set in Asia. I recommend listening to it on audio (which I did) because it might be a slower start if you read the actual book. Overall, a nice debut with an under-explored topic/setting.
Ruby Lost and Found
Published: May 16, 2023
Thanks to her Ye-Ye’s epic scavenger hunts, thirteen-year-old Ruby Chu knows San Francisco like the back of her hand. But after his death, she feels lost, and it seems like everyone—from her best friends to her older sister—is abandoning her.
After Ruby gets in major trouble at school, her parents decide she has to spend the summer at a local senior center, with her grandmother, Nai-Nai, and Nai-Nai’s friends for company. When a new boy from Ruby’s grade, Liam Yeung, starts showing up too, Ruby’s humiliation is complete.
But Nai-Nai, her friends, and Liam all surprise Ruby. She finds herself working with Liam, who might not be as annoying as he seems, to help save a historic Chinatown bakery that’s being priced out of the neighborhood. And alongside Nai-Nai, who is keeping a secret that threatens to change everything, Ruby retraces Ye-Ye’s scavenger hunt maps in an attempt to find a way out of her grief—and maybe even find herself.
This Is How I Roll
Published: January 3, 2023
Susannah Mikami dreams of becoming a famous sushi chef like her dad. And this summer, she plans to learn everything about his traditional kitchen. Only he refuses to teach her, and won’t tell her why. Is it because he doesn’t want her to embarrass him in front of the documentary crew filming at his restaurant? Or worse, because she’s a girl? Either way, Sana decides he’s not the only one who can keep secrets.
So when she meets Koji, a cute boy who wants to help her cook up some trouble in the kitchen — and film online tutorials to show the world her mad skills — Sana is all in. But sneaking around means lying to her parents, something Sana’s never done before. Can she take the heat, or will she get out of the kitchen for good?
Those Kids from Fawn Creek
Published: March 8, 2022
Those Kids from Fawn Creek is a gorgeously written, character-driven, slice-of-life middle grade book about bullying and the power of kindness. Set in a small town and told from multiple points of view, this book is impressively immersive and engaging. Once you start to these Fawn Creek kids, you’ll never want to leave — and when you do leave, they’ll stay with you forever. I’d definitely recommend this one for older middle grade readers ages 10 and up.
Dream Annie Dream
Published: February 8, 2022
As the daughter of immigrants who came to America for a better life, Annie Inoue was raised to dream big. And at the start of seventh grade, she’s channeling that irrepressible hope into becoming the lead in her school play.
So when Annie lands an impressive role in the production of The King and I, she’s thrilled . . . until she starts to hear grumbles from her mostly white classmates that she only got the part because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Is this all people see when they see her? Is this the only kind of success they’ll let her have—one that they can tear down or use race to belittle?
Disheartened but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance
Published: February 1, 2022
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance is a spellbinding middle grade book about one Chinese family’s heritage and the granddaughter who ties it all together. This book highlights the challenges that Chinese people have faced while immigrating to the US. It also shows how immigrants can find family among themselves and in their communities. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance also depicts a protagonist whose father was a sperm donor, like Nikki in Nikki on the Line. Some kids with unique family situations may appreciate this detail. I loved this one and I always enjoy Lisa Yee’s storytelling. This is a must-read.
Boba Time for Pearl Li
Published: February 28, 2023
It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! is a sweet, heartwarming middle grade novel about crafting, entrepreneurship, friendship, and navigating parental expectations. This is an excellent book for showing kids the ins-and-outs of running a successful business, down to marketing, setting pricing, and customer relations. It’s also a great addition to the lineup of books addressing the parental pressure to excel in science/engineering over creative pursuits. This one’s a delightful debut that I totally recommend — I’d choose the audiobook over the print version, too!
Published: May 9, 2023
When their flights are grounded at a busy airport, the lives of four kids (Feek, Sami, Hanna, and Nora) collide. Hanna is occupied with finding a famous, recently lost cat and manages to rope the other kids–including anxious Sami–into her investigation. In addition to that, the kids have to overcome challenging family situations and are also Muslim. Feek just wants to be seen as a serious poet by his famous poet/rapper dad, Hanna is avoiding the conversation of a potential remarriage for her dad, Nora isn’t sure she’s Muslim enough, and Sami can’t seem to escape his anxiety, even with karate.
Published: April 5, 2022
Karthik Delivers is a unique, refreshing look at a family dealing with financial struggles and a young teen discovering his passions. This is peak upper middle grade literature that highlights sweet male friendships, a budding crush (with hand-holding at the end!), academic pressures in immigrant families, and a growing love for acting and the arts. Older middle schoolers (7th grade and up) will love this one, especially if they aren’t afraid of longer books.
Sweet and Sour
Published: September 6, 2022
For as long as she can remember, Mai has spent every summer in Mystic, Connecticut visiting family friends. And hanging out with her best-friend-since-birth, Zach Koyama, was always the best part.
Then two summers ago everything changed. Zach humiliated Mai, proving he wasn’t a friend at all. So when Zach’s family moved to Japan, Mai felt relieved. No more summers together. No more heartache.
But this year, the Koyamas have returned and the family vacation is back on. And if Mai has to spend the summer around Zach, the least she can do is wipe away the memory of his betrayal… by coming up with the perfect plan for revenge!
Only Zach isn’t the boy he used to be, and Mai’s memories of their last fateful summer aren’t the whole truth of what happened between them. Now she’ll have to decide if she can forgive Zach, even if she can never forget.
In the Beautiful Country
Published: June 28, 2022
In the Beautiful Country is a moving, poignant, and lyrical verse novel about immigration, identity, food and family. Packed with insightful musings about American culture, immigrant assimilation issues, and the woes of racial prejudice, this story isn’t afraid to shed light on pressing issues. It also uncovers the aching loneliness many immigrants have to deal with when they move to a new country. Fans of LaMotte’s Measuring Up, Warga’s Other Words for Home, and Yang’s Front Desk will eat this up.
Best Asian Middle Grade Books About Immigration
Published: May 29, 2018
Mia Tang is a ten-year-old Chinese immigrant who lives in a motel with her parents in the 1980s. They run the motel for its crooked owner, Mr Yao. Mia runs the front desk, and soon she realizes that her parents use the motel to protect undocumented immigrants. I highly recommend this debut by Kelly Yang. It deals with heavier topics like racism, class prejudice, the value of diligence and the struggles of immigrants in a dignified way that kids can relate to.
Published: May 11, 2021
When her family moves from Pakistan to Peachtree City, all Nurah wants is to blend in, yet she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. And in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in the U.S. Yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
Other Words for Home
Published: May 28, 2019
I loved this well-written novel-in-verse. Other Words for Home is a deft examination of what it feels like to be regarded as “other” in a foreign land. Yet, this novel is hopeful. Jude is a shining example of the resilience of immigrants — that people can bloom wherever they’re planted. Other Words for Homefeatures a Muslim girl who decides to wear the hijab and tackles displacement and the search for identity in a foreign land. I would strongly recommend this novel to anyone looking for stories set in Syria, fans of Hena Khan‘s Amina’s Voice, and anyone in search of a story with a brave female protagonist.
Published: March 30, 2021
Stella and Luna know that their mama, Elsie, came from the Philippines when she was a child, but they don’t know much else. So 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 young life of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god. Both are tales of sisterhood and motherhood, and of the difficult experience of trying to fit into a new culture, and having to fight for a home and acceptance. Glorious and layered, this is a portrait of family and strength for the ages.
Asian Middle Grade Books About Community
Hope in the Valley
Published: July 11, 2023
Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn’t like change. She’s not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind. Most of all, Pandita doesn’t want to feel like she’s leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret space: the abandoned but majestic mansion across the street.
But then the unthinkable happens. The town announces that the old home will be bulldozed in favor of new―maybe affordable―housing. With her family on opposing sides of the issue, Pandita must find her voice―and the strength to move on―in order to give her community hope.
Best Asian Middle Grade Book About Math
Danny Chung Sums It Up
Published: September 7, 2021
Eleven-year-old Danny’s life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother comes to live with his family in England. Things get worse when Danny finds out he’ll have to share his room with her, and she took the top bunk! At first, Danny is frustrated that he can’t communicate with her because she doesn’t speak English—and because he’s on the verge of failing math and Nai Nai was actually a math champion back in the day. It just feels like he and his grandmother have nothing in common. His parents insist that Danny help out, so when he’s left to look after Nai Nai, he leaves her at the bingo hall for the day to get her off his back. But he soon discovers that not everyone there is as welcoming as he expected . . . Through the universal languages of math and art, Danny realizes he has more in common with his Nai Nai than he first thought. Filled with heart and humor, Danny Chung Sums It Up shows that traversing two cultures is possible and worth the effort, even if it’s not always easy.
Best Asian Middle Grade Book About War in Japan
A Place to Belong
Published: May 14, 2019
World War II has ended, but while America has won the war, twelve-year-old Hanako feels lost. To her, the world, and her world, seems irrevocably broken.
America, the only home she’s ever known, imprisoned then rejected her and her family—and thousands of other innocent Americans—because of their Japanese heritage, because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Japan, the country they’ve been forced to move to, the country they hope will be the family’s saving grace, where they were supposed to start new and better lives, is in shambles because America dropped bombs of their own—one on Hiroshima unlike any other in history. And Hanako’s grandparents live in a small village just outside the ravaged city.
The country is starving, the black markets run rampant, and countless orphans beg for food on the streets, but how can Hanako help them when there is not even enough food for her own brother?
Hanako feels she could crack under the pressure, but just because something is broken doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Cracks can make room for gold, her grandfather explains when he tells her about the tradition of kintsukuroi—fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever. As she struggles to adjust to find her place in a new world, Hanako will find that the gold can come in many forms, and family may be hers.
Under the Broken Sky
Published: October 15, 2019
Twelve-year-old Natsu and her family live a quiet farm life in Manchuria, near the border of the Soviet Union. But the life they’ve known begins to unravel when her father is recruited to the Japanese army, and Natsu and her little sister, Asa, are left orphaned and destitute. In a desperate move to keep her sister alive, Natsu sells Asa to a Russian family following the 1945 Soviet occupation. The journey to redemption for Natsu’s broken family is rife with struggles, but Natsu is tenacious and will stop at nothing to get her little sister back.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Pakistan
Published: May 8, 2018
Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.
Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Music
Published: March 14, 2017
A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
Published: October 19, 2021
When Nimra joins public school after years in Islamic school, she’s not expecting to become 1/4th of Barakah Beats, a popular boy band in her school. But that’s what happens. When her BFF (at least to Nimra) stops acting so BFF-y after Nimra decides to wear her hijab to public school, Nimra is desperate to keep their friendship. Even if it means joining a boy band when it conflicts with her Islamic beliefs. Can Nimra find a way to use her voice without going against her values or hurting her new friends and bandmates?
Published: June 29, 2021
Millie is attending a real school for the first time, and she dreams of finally having friends and a little bit of freedom. She finds her chance when she joins an imitation band of her favorite J-Pop group, where she’s thrilled to meet a group of misfits who quickly become a tightknit group of friends that are like family.
But Millie soon realizes that one of them is dealing with problems bigger than what notes to hit when it comes time for their performance. Can Millie help her friend, even when their problem feels too big to say out loud?
Author is of Filipino descent
Published: March 24, 2015
Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show her how special she really is.
Asian Middle Grade Books About Dance
Sunny Park Makes a Move
Published: August 15, 2023
Sunny Park is a socially anxious girl obsessed with her favorite K-Pop band, Supreme Beat. She has one friend, Bailey and tries to be there as much as possible (to a fault) for her—even when it means quitting ballet which she loved.
But when Bailey drags her to audition for her school’s dance team, Sunny gets in and Bailey doesn’t. Sunny’s mom insists that Sunny continues on the team, to Bailey’s dismay. As Sunny makes new friends, she starts to realize that maybe Bailey isn’t such a great one.
This was a fun, relatable (at times frustrating) story about standing up for oneself, dance, fandom, and finding true friends.
That Thing About Bollywood
Published: May 18, 2021
You know how in Bollywood when people are in love, they sing and dance from the mountaintops? Eleven-year-old Sonali wonders if they do the same when they’re breaking up. The truth is, Sonali’s parents don’t get along, and it looks like they might be separating.
Sonali’s little brother, Ronak, is not taking the news well, constantly crying. Sonali would never do that. It’s embarrassing to let out so many feelings, to show the world how not okay you are. But then something strange happens, something magical, maybe. When Sonali gets upset during a field trip, she can’t bury her feelings like usual—instead, she suddenly bursts into a Bollywood song-and-dance routine about why she’s upset!
The next morning, much to her dismay, Sonali’s reality has shifted. Things seem brighter, almost too bright. Her parents have had Bollywood makeovers. Her friends are also breaking out into song and dance. And somehow, everyone is acting as if this is totally normal.
Sonali knows something has gone wrong, and she suspects it has something to do with her own mismanaged emotions. Can she figure it out before it’s too late?
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Space
See You in the Cosmos
Published: February 28, 2017
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.
Clues to the Universe
Published: January 12, 2021
In this debut middle grade book told from two points of view, Ro and Benji become lab partners and form a pact to help each other achieve their goals. For Ro, that’s building the rocket she and her dad always meant to build before he died a year ago. And for Benji, it’s not getting a failing grade in science by tacking on to Ro’s science project. But when Benji discovers that a popular comic artist is his estranged father, Ro insists on helping Benji reunite with his father.
Clues to the Universe is a heartfelt middle grade debut about a sweet, unlikely friendship, STEM, the grief of losing a parent, and the joy of finding one. This book also features an art-loving protagonist and a heartwarming sense of community.
We Dream of Space
Author is of Filipino Descent
Published: May 5, 2020
In We Dream of Space, siblings Cash, Fitch, and Bird move through the daily trials of pre-teen life in the 1980’s. This character-driven slice-of-life novel shows how different families can be, addresses the struggles of navigating sibling relationships, and highlights what difference an enthusiastic teacher can make. More importantly, it is an ode to the Challenger Shuttle Disaster of 1986 and middle-grade historical fiction like this can teach not just history, but also a lot of empathy.
Best Asian Middle Grade Novel-In-Verse
Red, White, and Whole
Published: February 2, 2021
The year is 1983 and 13-year-old Reha is caught between two cultures: her Indian family and community at home; and the all-American experience at school and with her white “school best friend.” But it’s not all rosy. Her mother doesn’t approve of Reha acting more American than Indian. She makes all of Reha’s clothes herself, and is upset when Reha says she would like to go to the school dance.
Reha is understandably frustrated at her mother’s lack of understanding, but she’s about to have more problems. Her mom is diagnosed with leukemia and Reha’s life is turned upside down. Between school, family issues, and navigating her affection for a boy in her neighborhood, Reha has her plate full.
Best Asian Middle Grade Book About Animals
Manatee’s Best Friend
Published: August 3, 2021
Becca Wong Walker may be so shy that most people at school think she doesn’t speak at all, but why should she care? She has more important things to worry about. Missy, the manatee who visits the dock in Becca’s backyard, and Becca’s only friend, hasn’t been seen for a long time. When Missy finally does return, she has a new baby with her! Becca wants to be excited, but more than ever inconsiderate boaters are speeding through the river, putting the lives of Missy and her baby in terrible danger.
One day, Becca spots a dolphin in the river too! By bonding over the dolphin and manatees, Becca finally starts to make friends at school. But when Becca takes a video that goes viral, it seems like it will be harder than ever to save the manatees… and trying might just tear Becca’s new friendships apart.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Tigers
Iris and the Tiger
Published: January 27, 2016
Twelve-year-old Iris has been sent to Spain on a mission: to make sure her elderly and unusual aunt, Ursula, leaves her fortune–and her sprawling estate–to Iris’s scheming parents.
But from the moment Iris arrives at Bosque de Nubes, she realises something isn’t quite right. There is an odd feeling around the house, where time moves slowly and Iris’s eyes play tricks on her. While outside, in the wild and untamed forest, a mysterious animal moves through the shadows.
Just what is Aunt Ursula hiding?
But when Iris discovers a painting named Iris and the Tiger, she sets out to uncover the animal’s real identity–putting her life in terrible danger.
When You Trap a Tiger
Published: January 28, 2020
When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now they want it back. And when one of the tigers approaches Lily with a deal–return what her grandmother stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to agree. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice…and the courage to face a tiger.
Best Pick for Grandparent Books
Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field
Published: March 2, 2021
Peter, or Petey, as he’s affectionately called by his sister Charlotte aka L.B is obsessed with dinosaurs. He wants to be a paleontologist when he’s older and is constantly digging in the sandpit at his grandparents’ (Haji and Hammy) house. In the summer, the family takes a trip to Drumheller for a dinosaur expedition, which ends up being a bust for Peter. To cap it off, his Hammy is forgetful and seems dazed from time to time. Then he discovers that his parents are planning to send Hammy to a care facility. Can Peter fix the situation?
Any Day With You
Published: May 5, 2020
Kaia and her family live near the beach in California, where the fun of moviemaking is all around them. Kaia loves playing with makeup and creating special effects, turning her friends into merfolk and other magical creatures.
This summer, Kaia and her friends are part of a creative arts camp, where they’re working on a short movie to enter in a contest. The movie is inspired by the Filipino folktales that her beloved Tatang, her great-grandfather, tells. Tatang lives with her family and is like the sparkle of her special-effects makeup. When Tatang decides that it is time to return to his homeland in the Philippines, Kaia will do anything to convince him not to go.
More Middle-Grade Books About Grandparents
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Adoption
Half a World Away
Published: September 2, 2014
Eleven-year-old Jaden is adopted, and he knows he’s an “epic fail.” That’s why his family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby—to replace him, he’s sure. And he gets it. He is incapable of stopping his stealing, hoarding, lighting fires, aggressive running, and obsession with electricity. He knows his parents love him, but he feels…nothing.
When they get to Kazakhstan, it turns out the infant they’ve traveled for has already been adopted, and literally within minutes are faced with having to choose from six other babies. While his parents agonize, Jaden is more interested in the toddlers. One, a little guy named Dimash, spies Jaden and barrels over to him every time he sees him. Jaden finds himself increasingly intrigued by and worried about Dimash. Already three years old and barely able to speak, Dimash will soon age out of the orphanage, and then his life will be as hopeless as Jaden feels now. For the first time in his life, Jaden actually feels something that isn’t pure blinding fury, and there’s no way to control it, or its power.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Fantasy & Folklore Books
Published: January 31, 2017
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power.
Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.
The Land of Forgotten Girls
Published: March 1, 2016
Soledad has always been able to escape into the stories she creates. Just like her mother always could. And Soledad has needed that escape more than ever in the five years since her mother and sister died, and her father moved Sol and her youngest sister from the Philippines to Louisiana. After her father leaves, all Sol and Ming have is their evil stepmother, Vea. Sol has protected Ming all this time, but then Ming begins to believe that Auntie Jove—their mythical, world-traveling aunt—is really going to come rescue them. Can Sol protect Ming from this impossible hope?
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Summer
A Thousand Questions
Published: October 6, 2020
Maryam (Mimi) has a thousand questions for her dad who left her and her mother when she was younger, but her mom seems to have moved on and won’t talk to her about him. Her mother Samia is an artist and money is often tight for both of them in the city. One summer, Mimi’s mom decides they will take a trip to Pakisan (!) where Mimi’s grandparents live. Imagine how thrilled she is to learn that her dad (globe-trotting journalist) is also currently in Karachi.
Sakina is the daughter of Mimi’s grandparents’ cook. Although she’s Mimi’s age, their lives couldn’t be more different. Sakina works with her dad, doesn’t go to school, and doesn’t speak good English either. She hasn’t told her parents, but she’s studying to pass an English test so she can get a school scholarship for poor children. When both girls meet, they band together to help each other reach their goals: Mimi’s, finding her dad; Sakina’s learning English. The story is told from both girls’ perspectives in alternating chapters.
The Emperor’s Riddle
Published: May 2, 2017
Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.
Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together—one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.
When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.
Best Humor Asian Middle-Grade Book
The Year of the Dog
Published: January 1, 2008
When Pacy’s mom tells her that this is a good year for friends, family, and “finding herself,” Pacy begins searching right away. As the year goes on, she struggles to find her talent, deals with disappointment, makes a new best friend, and discovers just why the Year of the Dog is a lucky one for her after all.
This funny and profound book is a wonderful debut novel by award-winning and bestselling author and illustrator Grace Lin, and young readers will be sure to love and treasure it for years to come.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Vietnam
Published: February 17, 2015
A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War.
Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Picks About Sports
The Way Home Looks Now
Published: April 28, 2015
Twelve-year-old Peter Lee and his family are baseball lovers, who bond over back lot games and talk of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But when tragedy strikes, the family flies apart and baseball no longer seems to matter. Is that true? Peter wonders if just maybe the game they love can pull them together and bring them back, safe at home.
Published: January 19, 2021
E.L. Shen’s The Comeback follows 12-year-old figure skater, Maxine Chen. Maxine loves figure skating and is pretty good at it too. Her parents are extra supportive and make financial sacrifices so that Maxine can pursue her passion. Still, they’re balanced and never pressure her to do anything she doesn’t. They also always ensure that she prioritizes school work and is not too hard on herself.
Maxine is a confident skater and feels sure that she’s got at least third place in the bag during her contest, but things start to get complicated when a new skater named Holly shows up. Holly is better trained and more experienced on the ice and Maxine begins to feel jealousy and other negative emotions. Maxine is also struggling with a bully at school who makes racial jokes about Maxine, such as about her monolid. As she prepares for and competes, Maxine learns a lot about standing up for herself and the value of true friendships.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game
Published: February 4, 2020
Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”
At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.
As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.
More Middle-Grade Sports Books
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Video/Online Games
Anyone’s Game (Cross Ups Series)
Published: September 11, 2018
What’s up with Cali? Why does she keep changing her gamer tag?
It’s summertime, and even though his good friend Cali moved to another city, Jaden can connect with her online almost every day to play their favorite game, Cross Ups. His mom has loosened her rules on how often he can play, and he has an amazing new controller that will make him even better at tournaments. But then he gets roped into a dorky summer camp with his buddy Hugh, and Cali starts acting really weird . . . So when a last-minute tournament spot opens up in Cali’s city, Jaden jumps at the chance to go.
But things go badly from the start. Jaden loses his controller on the train, and his reunion with Cali is awkward. She’s unhappy, and Jaden can’t figure out why, especially when she’s getting better and better at Cross Ups―and may even win the tournament.
With its sharp dialogue and relatable characters, Anyone’s Game, the second book in the Cross Ups series, chronicles the ups and downs of middle school with a relevant, contemporary twist.
You Go First
Published: April 10, 2018
Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana.
Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.
During the course of one week, Charlotte and Ben—friends connected only by an online Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. The New York Times-bestselling novel You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Identity
The Way to Bea
Published: September 19, 2017
Seventh grade isn’t starting off so well for Beatrix Lee. Bea used to have friends…and now she doesn’t. She was an only child…and now she’s going to be a big sister. She used to fit in…and now she stands out for all the wrong reasons.
She takes solace in writing poems in ink that is as invisible as she feels, and hiding them in a secret spot. But then something incredible happens–someone starts writing back. Is it her former best friend? The editor of the school paper? The caring librarian who always offers the perfect book? Or the boy whose obsession with labyrinths is as intense as Bea’s love for words? In solving the mystery, Bea just might discover where she belongs.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Published: January 1, 2011
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is a humorous, immersive middle-grade book with a memorable protagonist. Lucy Wu’s middle school trials and the struggles of being caught between cultures stand out. This book also examines Chinese history and culture in an accessible way, and encourages children of mixed cultures to give their parents’ cultures a fair chance. I would highly recommend The Great Wall of Lucy Wu to any readers who enjoy books about Chinese culture, funny protagonists, sports fiction, and books with loads of food references.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung
Published: March 17, 2020
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.
Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.
As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.
Read my interview with author, Jessica Kim.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Activism
Book Uncle and Me
Author is of Indian descent
Published: September 1, 2016
Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library on the street corner. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.
What can she do? The local elections are coming up, but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote!
Still, Yasmin has friends ― her best friend, Reeni, and Anil, who even has a blue belt in karate. And she has family and neighbors. What’s more, she has an idea that came right out of the last book she borrowed from Book Uncle.
So Yasmin and her friends get to work. Ideas grow like cracks in the sidewalk, and soon the whole effort is breezing along nicely… Or is it spinning right out of control?
American as Paneer Pie
Published: June 9, 2020
As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.
When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.
To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.
When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.
Three Keys (Front Desk #2)
Published: September 15, 2020
Mia Tang thinks she’s going to have the best year ever.
She and her parents are the proud owners of the Calivista Motel, Mia gets to run the front desk with her best friend, Lupe, and she’s finally getting somewhere with her writing!
But as it turns out, sixth grade is no picnic…
- Mia’s new teacher doesn’t think her writing is all that great. And her entire class finds out she lives and works in a motel!
- The motel is struggling, and Mia has to answer to the Calivista’s many, many worried investors.
- A new immigration law is looming and if it passes, it will threaten everything — and everyone — in Mia’s life.
It’s a roller coaster of challenges, and Mia needs all of her determination to hang on tight. But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, it’s Mia Tang!
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Hiroshima
The Last Cherry Blossom
Published: August 2, 2016
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and since the Japanese newspapers don’t report lost battles, the Japanese people are not entirely certain of where Japan stands. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bombs hit Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.
Best Asian Middle Grade Book About Divorce
Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
Published: August 3, 2021
Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai is a compulsively-readable middle grade release, perfect for fans of upper middle grade stories. This realistic contemporary novel handles tough themes like the process and reality of parental divorce, a tween experiencing the fall-out of a breakup, kids managing busy school schedules, and keeping bonds of friendship alive. It also highlights the value of vulnerability and how powerful it can be to open one’s heart to the affections of others.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book With Biracial Protagonists
Cilla Lee-Jenkins Series
Published: March 28, 2017
Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best—herself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:
I LOVED reading Cilla’s stories, and her brand of wit is just the best. This book explores everything from identity, especially for a biracial child, to friendships and dealing with the birth of a new sibling. Cilla is smart, imaginative and simply a delight to be with!
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Grief
All the Ways Home
Published: May 28, 2019
Sometimes, home isn’t where you expect to find it.
After losing his mom in a fatal car crash, Kaede Hirano–now living with a grandfather who is more stranger than family–developed anger issues and spent his last year of middle school acting out.
Best-friendless and critically in danger repeating the seventh grade, Kaede is given a summer assignment: write an essay about what home means to him, which will be even tougher now that he’s on his way to Japan to reconnect with his estranged father and older half-brother. Still, if there’s a chance Kaede can finally build a new family from an old one, he’s willing to try. But building new relationships isn’t as easy as destroying his old ones, and one last desperate act will change the way Kaede sees everyone–including himself.
This is a book about what home means to us—and that there are many different correct answers.
More Middle-Grade Books About Death and Grief
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Writing and Science
Published: April 18, 2005
Julia Song and her friend Patrick would love to win a blue ribbon, maybe even two, at the state fair. They’ve always done projects together, and they work well as a team. This time, though, they’re having trouble coming up with just the right project. Then Julia’s mother offers a suggestion: They can raise silkworms, as she did when she was a girl in Korea.
Patrick thinks it’s a great idea. Of course there are obstacles—for example, where will they get mulberry leaves, the only thing silkworms eat?—but nothing they can’t handle.
Julia isn’t so sure. The club where kids do their projects is all about traditional American stuff, and raising silkworms just doesn’t fit in. Moreover, the author, Ms. Park, seems determined to make Julia’s life as complicated as possible, no matter how hard Julia tries to talk her out of it.
In this contemporary novel, Linda Sue Park delivers a funny, lively story that illuminates both the process of writing a novel and the meaning of growing up American.
Best Asian Middle Grade Book About Family
The Many Meanings of Meilan
Published: August 17, 2021
Meilan Hua’s world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston’s Chinatown; and her favorite Chinese fairy tales.
After Nai Nai passes, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather on the road in search of a new home. They take a winding path across the country before landing in Redbud, Ohio. Everything in Redbud is the opposite of Chinatown, and Meilan’s not quite sure who she is–being renamed at school only makes it worse. She decides she is many Meilans, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her name. Sometimes she is Mist, cooling and invisible; other times, she’s Basket, carrying her parents’ hopes and dreams and her guilt of not living up to them; and occasionally she is bright Blue, the way she feels around her new friend Logan. Meilan keeps her facets separate until an injustice at school shows her the power of bringing her many selves together.
How to Win a Slime War
Published: September 14, 2021
Alex Manalo and his father have moved from Silicon Valley to Sacramento where his dad is taking over his Lolo and Lola’s grocery store. Alex is struggling to adjust to a new place and also feeling burdened by his father’s expectations of him — that he cut his hair short, play more sports, and make less slime.
At school, Alex is quickly befriended by Logan, a boy who thinks he should sell his slime. Unfortunately, a girl named Meadow has monopoly over the school’s slime market and is not pleased about Alex joining. So they decide to have a contest to determine the champion, once and for all.
This is a fun, heartwarming story about identity, family, Filipino culture, soccer, and entrepreneurship. Community and evolving friendships also play vital roles in this story. With a protagonist who loves making slime and is figuring out where he belongs, there are several funny and poignant moments throughout this story. I loved it, and I think it’s my favorite yet from the author.
Best Middle Grade Book Set in China
Room to Dream (Front Desk #3)
Published: September 21, 2021
Mia Tang is going for her dreams!
After years of hard work, Mia Tang finally gets to go on vacation with her family — to China! A total dream come true! Mia can’t wait to see all her cousins and grandparents again, especially her cousin Shen. As she roams around Beijing, witnessing some of the big changes China’s going through, Mia thinks about the changes in her own life, like . . .
1. Lupe’s taking classes at the high school! And Mia’s own plans to be a big writer are . . . stuck.
2. Something happened with Jason and Mia has no idea what to do about it.
3. New buildings are popping up all around the motel, and small businesses are disappearing.
Can the Calivista survive? Buckle up! Mia is more determined than ever to get through the turbulence, now that she finally has . . . room to dream!
Best Asian Middle Grade Book Set in Japan
While I Was Away
Published: January 26, 2021
When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.
In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.
If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home…and who will Waka be when she finds it?
Published: March 16, 2021
Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.
Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize–better than most–the urgent need for peace.
Best Picks About Filipino Culture
The House that Lou Built
Published: June 12, 2018
Lou is a middle grader with a knack for building. She excels at her woodwork classes and has dreams of building her own tiny house. Especially because she currently lives with her mother in her grandmother’s house and barely has any privacy. She becomes even more desperate to build when her mother decides to move Lou away from her friends and large Filipino family for a new job offer.
I enjoyed reading LOU and definitely thought her to be one unique little girl. She is so determined and such a little leader. Lou also has great friends and family who work hard to support her dreams. Especially by the end of the story, she learns what a home really means and the value of good friends.
Overall, an enjoyable read that highlights the importance of family, not giving up and belief in oneself. I loved all the references to Filipino culture and food and even though I have no clue about building and woodwork, I found this to be an enjoyable read.
My Fate According to the Butterfly
Published: July 30, 2019
When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her — on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.
If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.
So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult — and dangerous — than she ever anticipated.
Was the Butterfly right? Perhaps Sab is doomed after all!
Best Pick About 9/11
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero
Published: September 7, 2021
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero is a poignant look at the impact of 9/11 on Muslim communities in America. This book encourages self-examination and delves into ways to deal with prejudice around us. Alternating between past (2001) and present (2021), with mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic, this realistic middle grade book is perfect for helping kids make sense of 9/11. Bonus points for healthy male friendships and a STEM-loving protagonist.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Moving to a New Country
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Published: May 24, 2011
Eleven-year old Dini loves movies—watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own—especially those oh-so-fabulous Bollywood movies where you don’t need to know the language to get what’s going on. But when her mother reveals some big news, it does not at all jibe with the script Dini had in mind. Her family is moving to India. And not even to Bombay, which is the “center of the filmi universe” (and home to Dini’s all-time most favorite star, Dolly Singh). No, they’re moving to a teeny, tiny town that she can’t even find on a map: Swapnagiri. It means Dream Mountain, a sleepy little place where nothing interesting can happen….
Published: April 26, 2016
Eleven-year-old Ema has always been of two worlds—her father’s Japanese heritage and her mother’s life in America. She’s spent summers in California for as long as she can remember, but this year she and her mother are staying with her grandparents in Japan as they await the arrival of Ema’s baby sibling. Her mother’s pregnancy has been tricky, putting everyone on edge, but Ema’s heart is singing—finally, there will be someone else who will understand what it’s like to belong and not belong at the same time.
But Ema’s good spirits are muffled by her grandmother who is cold, tightfisted, and quick to reprimand her for the slightest infraction. Then, when their stay is extended and Ema must go to a new school, her worries of not belonging grow. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes, Ema, her parents, and the world watch as the twin towers fall…
As her mother grieves for her country across the ocean—threatening the safety of her pregnancy—and her beloved grandfather falls ill, Ema feels more helpless and hopeless than ever. And yet, surrounded by tragedy, Ema sees for the first time the tender side of her grandmother, and the reason for the penny-pinching and sternness make sense—her grandmother has been preparing so they could all survive the worst.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Korean Food & Culture
Published: April 3, 2018
Krista Kim-Bap is an endearing middle-grade book with a strong resemblance to The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. It was interesting to read a Canadian middle-grade book with cultural diversity. This book features a sweet sister relationship, a loving Korean grandma, healthy school friendships, and lots of food! If you’re looking for a feel-good middle-grade book with a dash of humor, you will absolutely enjoy this one.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Mental Illness
The Science of Breakable Things
Published: March 6, 2018
When Natalie’s science teacher suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie thinks that this might be the perfect solution to all of her problems. There’s prize money, and if she and her friends wins, then she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids–flowers that survive against impossible odds. Natalie’s mother has been suffering from depression, and Natalie is sure that the flowers’ magic will inspire her mom to love life again. Which means it’s time for Natalie’s friends to step up and show her that talking about a problem is like taking a plant out of a dark cupboard and giving it light. With their help, Natalie begins an uplifting journey to discover the science of hope, love, and miracles.
More Middle-Grade Books About Mental Illness
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About the Vietnam War
House Without Walls
Published: June 18, 2019
For most people, home is a place with four walls. It’s a place to eat, sleep, rest, and live. For a refugee, the concept of home is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-wavering. And often, it doesn’t have any walls at all.
Eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with Dee Dee during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus in 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety. For a refugee, the trip is a long and perilous one, filled with dangerous encounters with pirates and greedy sailors, a lack of food and water, and even the
stench of a dead body onboard. When they finally arrive at a refugee camp, Lam befriends Dao, a girl her age who
becomes like a sister-a welcome glimmer of happiness after a terrifying journey.
Inside Out and Back Again
Published: February 22, 2011
Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee—fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama—this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Retelling
More to the Story
Published: September 8, 2020
Told from Jameela’s perspective, More to the Story is a modern middle-grade novel inspired by the classic novel, Little Women. Four Muslim-American sisters Jameela, Maryam, Bisma, and Aleeza are distraught when their dad has to go abroad for six months for a job.
I ADORED THIS BOOK from the very first sentence–I just knew it would be good. And I was right. More to the Story is a heartwarming, charming middle-grade novel about sisterhood, family, and following your passion. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a wholesome, riveting middle-grade book. This book would be perfect for fans of The Vanderbeeker series and Amina’s Voice.
Read my interview with author Hena Khan
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Friendship
Save Me a Seat
Published: May 10, 2016
SAVE ME A SEAT is the story of two seemingly different boys – one Indian, one American. When Ravi’s family moves to America, he is shocked at how different things are. The things he liked about himself seem to neither impress nor be appreciated by his American classmates and teachers. Joe is a quiet, sensitive American who is regularly bullied by his classmates. The story follows both boys as they find a way to a solid friendship despite their differences.
With a major focus on bullying, culture, food and respecting differences, SAVE ME A SEAT is delightful, funny and inspiring. A fantastic middle grade pick for teaching young boys and girls -everyone, really – empathy. Oh and if you can, do the audiobook! It’s narrated by two different voices, one of whom is Indian and really brings Ravi’s character to life.
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
Published: May 5, 2020
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a strong middle-grade debut, perfect for anyone who enjoys middle-grade books about friendships. Parents and teachers who want to encourage their middle schoolers to stand up for themselves in the midst of a toxic friendship would do well to hand this book to them. At the end, it’s so important to learn that some friendships end, and that’s OK. Finally, it’s a breath of fresh air to read a book with a half-Japanese protagonist who deals with racism, but also just lives a normal life. I also loved that although Jenna’s on honor roll, Keiko is just a regular student; not all Asians are “geniuses.”
Paris Pan takes the Dare
Published: June 11, 2009
So what if it?s a rite of passage for every seventh grade girl in town to spend a night in the woods? Paris Pan only just moved here, the woods are supercreepy, and she has enough weirdness to deal with in her own family. Finding out a girl died mysteriously years ago while on the Dare?right near Paris?s new house, no less?is bad enough, but the unmistakably ghostlike noises coming out of the broken-down shed at the edge of the Pan?s property? Definite deal breaker.
All Paris wants is to make friends, try to fit in, and not have to deal with a dead girl. But everyone has to take the Dare, and the new girl?s turn is up. . . .
A Place at the Table
Published: August 11, 2020
In A Place at the Table, Sara’s has moved from her smaller Islamic school to the larger neighborhood middle school. Unfortunately for her, her Pakistani mother has also started teaching after-school cooking classes (in addition to her catering business) at the school. Sara is forced to attend those since her mother won’t let her stay home alone — despite the fact that she’s in sixth grade. Many of the kids in the class are rude and make fun of her mother’s dishes while pretending not to understand her accent. But one student, Elizabeth seems to enjoy learning to cook.
Elizabeth’s British mother is dealing with depression after the death of her mother and is struggling to adapt to American culture and her husband’s Jewish customs. On top of that, Elizabeth is the only girl at home, her best friend is pulling away from her, and she’s worried about her parents’ relationship seemingly falling apart. Sara and Elizabeth form an unlikely friendship when they discover that both their mothers are studying to pass the American citizenship test.
43 More Middle-Grade Books About Friendships
Best Asian Middle-Grade Books About Sisters
The Truth About Twinkie Pie
Published: January 27, 2015
Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi. Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the North Shore of Long Island. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.
That’s the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle-grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book About Homelessness & Poverty
Published: October 2, 2018
After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shantytown of its kind in the Philippines today.
When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
The Bridge Home
Published: February 5, 2019
When Viji and her sister, Rukku, whose developmental disability makes her overly trusting and vulnerable to the perils of the world, run away to live on their own, the situation could not be more grim. Life on the streets of the teeming city of Chennai is harsh for girls considered outcasts, but the sisters manage to find shelter on an abandoned bridge. There they befriend Muthi and Arul, two boys in a similar predicament, and the four children bond together and form a family of sorts.
Viji starts working with the boys scavenging in trash heaps while Rukku makes bead necklaces, and they buy food with what little money they earn. They are often hungry and scared but they have each other–and Kutti, the best dog ever. When the kids are forced from their safe haven on the bridge, they take shelter in a graveyard. But it is now the rainy season and they are plagued by mosquitos, and Rukku and Muthu fall ill. As their symptoms worsen, Viji and Arul must decide whether to risk going for help–when most adults in their lives have proven themselves untrustworthy–or to continue holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.
More Middle-Grade Books About Homelessness and Poverty
Best Asian Middle-Grade Book Series
Millicent Min, Girl Genius
Published: October 1, 2003
A funny story about a girl genius and her struggles with finding and keeping friends. Also features themes of family, grief, and navigating the awkward prepubescent ages.
Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time
Published: April 28, 2015
Stanford Wong is in big trouble–or as he would spell it, “trubble”–in this laugh-out-loud companion to the award-winning MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS and this season’s SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS.
Stanford Wong is having a bad summer. If he flunks his summer-school English class, he won’t pass sixth grade. If that happens, he won’t start on the A-team. If *that* happens, his friends will abandon him and Emily Ebers won’t like him anymore. And if THAT happens, his life will be over. Soon his parents are fighting, his grandmother Yin-Yin hates her new nursing home, he’s being “tutored” by the world’s biggest nerdball Millicent Min–and he’s not sure his ballpoint “Emily” tattoo is ever going to wash off.
Best Asian Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
Published: May 3, 2016
Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home.
Published: March 3, 2020
Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story. Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant voice will resonate with readers. Afterword.
More Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
American Born Chinese
Published: October 30, 2007
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
Published: September 27, 2016
Meet Abbie Wu. Abbie is in crisis—and not just because she’s starting middle school or because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because everyone seems to have a Thing except her. Abbie Wu is always in crisis.
From author and professional doodler Booki Vivat, Frazzled dives right into the mind of this hilariously neurotic middle school girl as she tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs. Akin to Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Frazzled is heavily illustrated, embarrassingly honest, and sure to appeal to anyone in the middle of figuring out how to survive the everyday disasters of growing up.
Pie in the Sky
Published: May 14, 2019
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.
Fly on the Wall
Published: September 15, 2020
Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. His (former) best friend knows to expect his family’s mafia-style interrogation when Henry’s actually allowed to hang out at her house. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!
But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr. . . hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.
Chapter Books & Series for Beginning Readers
Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts
Published: October 9, 2018
After the ghosts . . . come the sharks!
Sam Wu is not afraid of sharks. Except . . . he is. Can Sam conquer his fear before he misses out on his friends’ beach party fun?
On a class trip to the aquarium, certified ghost hunter Sam Wu encounters something even scarier than ghosts: Crazy Charlie, a giant shark, who TOTALLY tries to eat him. Sam has no intentions of taking any more chances with these people-eating creatures. But then his classmates Regina and Ralph announce they’re having a birthday bash . . . on the BEACH! Can Sam overcome his terror of becoming shark bait? This second book in the Sam Wu series is a funny, touching, and charming story of finding your courage when the moment comes—because bravery is something you have to prove again and again.
Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen
Published: July 11, 2017
Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!
She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.
But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?
Alvin Ho Series
Published: July 8, 2008
Alvin, an Asian American second grader, is afraid of everything—elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’ s there, he never, ever, says a word. But at home he’s a very loud superhero named Firecracker Man, a brother to Calvin and Anibelly, and a gentleman-in-training, so he can be just like his dad.
From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Published: January 1, 2020
Farah Rocks Fifth Grade is a much needed representation of a Palestinian-American protagonist in early readers. This heartfelt story is chock-full of family, friendship, culture, a realistic depiction of financial insecurity, and the repercussions of bullying. I would highly recommend it.
Mindy Kim Series
Published: January 14, 2020
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business is an exciting new addition to the world of chapter books. This series provides much needed Asian-American representation, much like the Jasmine Toguchi books. If you’re looking for a chapter book with a sweet protagonist dealing with grief,moving, and fitting in with a new school crowd, this is your pick. Plus, there are puppies!
Sci-Fi Middle Grade Books By Asian Authors
Hanna Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation
Published: June 21, 2022
Hana Hsu can’t wait to be meshed.
If she can beat out half her classmates at Start-Up, a tech school for the city’s most talented twelve-year-olds, she’ll be meshed to the multiweb through a neural implant like her mom and sister. But the competition is fierce, and when her passion for tinkering with bots gets her mixed up with dangerous junkyard rebels, she knows her future in the program is at risk.
Even scarier, she starts to notice that something’s not right at Start-Up—some of her friends are getting sick, and no matter what she does, her tech never seems to work right. With an ominous warning from her grandmother about being meshed, Hana begins to wonder if getting the implant early is really a good idea.
Desperate to figure out what’s going on, Hana and her friends find themselves spying on one of the most powerful corporations in the country—and the answers about the mystery at Start-Up could be closer to home than Hana’s willing to accept. Will she be able to save her friends—and herself— from a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows?
Wishing Upon the Same Stars
Published: February 1, 2022
This book follows young Palestinian-American Yasmeen Khoury whose parents move from Detroit (which has a thriving Arab-American community) to San Antonio, Texas where there are few to no other Arab-American families. But just before Yasmeen despairs, she discovers that their next door neighbors are Arab-Americans too — only, they’re Israeli-American, not Palestinian-American.
She befriends their daughter Ayelet, but her father is not pleased, especially with the current Palestinian-Israeli tensions. On top of adjusting to a new school and finding her place in the world, can Yasmeen help her dad see beyond the differences?
Are you a fan of Asian literature? Which of these Asian middle-grade books have you read or will you be putting on your TBR? I’d love to know!
More Book Lists
- Asian YA books
- 52 middle-grade books to look out for in 2020
- 91 middle grade books out in 2021
- 100 middle grade books to read in 2023
Thank you so much for including The Last Cherry Blossom with these amazing middle grade books by Asian American authors!
Afoma Umesi says
Ah, thank you for reading! It’s my pleasure 🙂
Kelly Neal says
Thank you so much for sharing these! I’ve ordered a few and recommended more to my students. I am so grateful for the time you took to compile them.
Afoma Umesi says
Hi Kelly! Thank you so much for reading as well. I really hope you and your students enjoy them 🙂
I’m pleased to have read a few of these! Thanks for your efforts Afoma!
Afoma Umesi says
Thank you, Carol!
Hi! I love this list. Thank you for putting it together and sharing it! I’m definitely adding some of these titles to my TBR pile.
Also just wanted to let you know that the Anna Wang series is wonderful, but Andrea Cheng isn’t Chinese. According to her website she’s Hungarian American.
Afoma Umesi says
Hi Alison! Thank you so much for the feedback. I’ll edit the list accordingly. I appreciate the tip off 🙂
Hi Afoma! I love your lists, but there is a huge error on here. Sylv Chiang is not of Chinese descent, her husband is Taiwanese. She’s white Canadian.
Afoma Umesi says
Hi Jodi, thanks for flagging this! Taking her book off the list now 🙂
This is a great list! I work at a library in a predominately Chinese neighborhood and I’m always looking for recommendations. I would like to note that I don’t think Donna Barba Higuera is part Chinese. I think her children are.
Afoma Umesi says
thanks for the note, Rebecca! I’ll keep that in mind.