The best middle-grade books featuring Asian-American/Canadian kids by Asian-American/Canadian authors

Christina Matula Author Of The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
By Christina Matula

Who am I?

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, a child of immigrant parents, and I’ve always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Moving to Hong Kong gave me the chance to explore my Chinese cultural roots and learn the language. I spent 14 very happy years in Hong Kong and my experiences there were the inspiration for my middle-grade debut, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei. Like the character Holly-Mei, I love dumplings, bubble tea, and field hockey. The books I chose are ones that reflect my experience of being born and raised in a new world.


I wrote...

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

By Christina Matula,

Book cover of The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

What is my book about?

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s new job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect... right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Taiwanese grandmother, Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right. It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

The books I picked & why

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The Many Meanings of Meilan

By Andrea Wang,

Book cover of The Many Meanings of Meilan

Why this book?

This story made me reflect on and appreciate the power of names. Twelve-year-old Meilan moves with her family from Boston’s Chinatown to Redbud, Ohio for a fresh start. When the principal insists on changing her name to Melanie, she starts to question her name and its meaning. Her nickname, Lan, has many meanings in Chinese and she tries to fit into all of them: basket – to carry the burden of her family’s stress; blue – to reflect her mood; and mist – to be invisible at school; before cherishing her name’s true meaning: beautiful orchid.


Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim,

Book cover of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Why this book?

Yumi is a girl trying to both please her Korean parents and live her own dream – that of attending comedy camp and becoming a stand-up comedian. I thought it was a fresh and funny take on the balancing act that many children of immigrants feel they must undertake. It made me think of the unspoken pressure I felt to study Science at university and how years later I was finally able to go back and study what interested me (creative writing!).


When You Trap a Tiger

By Tae Keller,

Book cover of When You Trap a Tiger

Why this book?

This was a touching book about a mixed Korean girl who tries to help her sick grandmother, Halmoni, get better through the power of stories. With a bit of magical realism and Korean folklore brought to life, Lily finds her own voice (so she is no longer what she describes as a “QAG – quiet Asian girl”) and begins to understand her own ancestry. Like Lily, I found a connection to my heritage via stories and folklore.


Hello, Universe

By Erin Entrada Kelly, Isabel Roxas (illustrator),

Book cover of Hello, Universe

Why this book?

Virgil is a quiet Filipino boy trapped in a well by the class bully. Helped by his friends – each with their own finely layered story – Virgil not only gets rescued, but also finds his inner voice. I loved the effortless diversity of the characters, which wasn’t the basis of the story, but truly enriched it.


Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl

By Julie Kagawa,

Book cover of Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl

Why this book?

This book takes young Shinji Takahashi from the comfort of his contemporary life and throws him into the world of ancient Mesoamerican culture, an evil corporation, and the illustrious Society of Explorers and Adventurers. I liked that Shinji is of Japanese heritage (and his ancestors’ role as guardians of a temple in Hokkaido were what drew him into this adventure) but it wasn’t the basis for his heroism in this fun-filled adventure.


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