The best books I wish existed when I was a kid

The Books I Picked & Why

Sunday Funday in Koreatown

By Aram Kim

Book cover of Sunday Funday in Koreatown

Why this book?

Growing up as a first-generation Korean American my heart ached with love to read this book. It truly celebrates Korean culture and its ties to family. Kim portrays our young protagonist Yoomi, a black and white cat experiencing something everyone has gone through—a bad day while highlighting some of the warmth and joyful things about Korean culture, my favorite topic being food. The end cap of the book features a recipe for kimbap. I love that she does this because growing up my mother would pack me kimbap for lunch and kids would immediately peg it as sushi. Little me would have felt so seen and loved by this book and I’m so happy it exists today.


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Watercress

By Andrea Wang, Jason Chin

Book cover of Watercress

Why this book?

Watercress is such a quietly beautiful book both in its words and its softly rendered illustrations. It deals with the oh-so-common feeling of being othered and the shame and embarrassment it can cause as an Asian American child who simply wants to fit in. Through the lens of food and its history, this is a story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage.


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American Born Chinese

By Gene Luen Yang

Book cover of American Born Chinese

Why this book?

This was one of the first young adult, graphic novels I ever picked up and read. It’s one that has forever stayed with me and is still a balm to this day when I read it. It elegantly portrays an overarching message about identity and a solid representation of Asian-American characters. Gene Luen Yang tells the story of Jin Wang and the struggles he faces being the only Chinese American kid at his school. Jin’s story is woven and connected to two other plots in the boom that eventually unite in an unexpected way to conclude the novel in a satisfying and poignant way.


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Superman Smashes the Klan

By Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru

Book cover of Superman Smashes the Klan

Why this book?

This is another masterful creation by Gene Luen Yang! After falling in love with American Born Chinese, this recent work of his did not disappoint. This story based on an old radio play is a tale of self-acceptance and standing up to hatred. Yang brilliantly intertwines the narrative of the Lee family and the issues of discrimination and violence they are faced with moving into a new suburban town along with the struggles of a younger, less experienced Superman coming to terms with being himself, an alien among humans.


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Cicada

By Shaun Tan

Book cover of Cicada

Why this book?

Cicada is one of those quietly brilliant stories that says so much but can also be left to the interpretation of the reader. For me it immediately and intensely made me think of the (Asian) immigrant experience and the racism and classism that come with that. The gorgeous illustrations alone are a reason to pick it up but the story will keep you coming back to it.


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