The best historical children’s books that engage and enlighten

Who am I?

In the wake of my father’s sudden death (when I was sixteen) I was left with many questions about my heritage. Why didn’t I know more about my parents and their homeland of Korea? Why wasn’t I curious enough to ask questions when my father was alive? Now I’m a Korean American author of many award-winning children’s books most of which are inspired by my family heritage. I’ve spent my adult life unearthing the past, immortalizing long-lost loved ones, sharing meaningful stories that would otherwise be forgotten. I’m drawn to historical fiction the way most people are to their smartphones. The truth is, there is no future without remembering the past.  


I wrote...

The Hundred Choices Department Store

By Ginger Park,

Book cover of The Hundred Choices Department Store

What is my book about?

1944, Sinuiju, northern Korea. Thirteen-year-old Miyook Pang has spent two years serving in the war effort on behalf of Japan during the Japanese Occupation of her country. Miyook endures exhaustion and illness, but only when she is sent to work in the dreaded dye factory does she experience spiritual death. Here she meets Song-ho, an orphaned boy, and unbeknownst to her, the brief encounter will prove fateful. When Japan loses the war, Russian soldiers capture her hometown leaving the city in ruin. With the Korean War looming, Miyook must take a dangerous flight south across the 38th parallel now guarded by armed soldiers. Here, once again, she encounters Song-ho, an event that will change the course of her life.

The books I picked & why

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Prairie Lotus

By Linda Sue Park,

Book cover of Prairie Lotus

Why this book?

While my parents were born in Korea, they emigrated to America in 1954 and fell in love with western shows Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and Bonanza. As a child, I would watch reruns with them and imagine myself riding on a wagon train or living on a prairie. Imagine that―a Korean girl in the Old West! While fourteen-year-old Hannah Edmunds in Prairie Lotus, is half white (father’s side) and half Chinese (mother’s side) she is Chinese in the eyes of her LaForge neighbors in the U.S. Dakota Territory where her father sets up shop―a dress shop―in town.

The year is 1880. Hannah is the only Asian child in her class as was I throughout my primary school years in the 1960s and 70s. On the first day of school, Hannah hides her face under a bonnet. I didn’t wear a bonnet but when boys made fun of me (with words I dare not repeat here!), I often kept my eyes down. So much of this story is relatable to my own life both past and present. Hannah is half-orphaned (Hannah lost her mother) and so was I (I lost my father when I was a teenager). Hannah and I both navigate two worlds in the hopes of finding a place to call our own. When Hannah isn’t doing schoolwork, she works in her father’s dress shop, and when I’m not writing, I work at my chocolate shop. 


Weedflower

By Cynthia Kadohata,

Book cover of Weedflower

Why this book?

This book, while it takes place in America, made me think of my mother who grew up in Japanese occupied Korea―she was forced to give up her Korean birth name for a Japanese name; forced to go to Japanese school and bow to large portraits of Emperor Hirohito; forced into the war effort at age twelve only to lose a finger while sewing buttons onto Japanese Imperial uniforms; Meanwhile, in America, a similar and heart-wrenching story unfolds in Weedflower, a story of innocent Japanese Americans going about their lives when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, Japanese Americans are no longer considered American―they are the enemy.

Twelve-year-old Sumiko has always struggled to fit in, but when the war breaks out, struggles turn to fear for her and her family, so much so, they have no other choice but to burn all precious possessions from Japan including photos of family members to prove their alliance to America; forced to erase all history of motherland Japan. And yet, after all of that, they’re still sent to a dreaded internment camp. This is a breathtaking, tear-jerking portrait of one of the thousands of Japanese American families who suffered and sacrificed everything during World War II. Sumiko, Japanese. My mother, Korean. Two girls who were victims of world powers.  


Stella by Starlight

By Sharon M. Draper,

Book cover of Stella by Starlight

Why this book?

“Nine robed figures dressed all in white,” begins this haunting story of the Ku Klux Klan arriving in the small town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. The year is 1932 and the town is, of course, segregated. Black and White. A line in the soil―just like the neighborhood street of my childhood in Springfield, Virginia that divided my Korean family from the white family who fought and failed to keep us from moving into our home. The reader will step into eleven-year-old Stella Mills' shoes and feel all her fear and anger over the injustices of her world that highlights voting rights. But young Stella harnesses her anger through words (much the way I did as a child) by creating a fantasy newspaper column called Stella Star’s Sentinel. Why didn’t I think of that? I only had my blue diary with a gold clasp. In Stella’s ‘newspaper’ she expresses how she feels, which prompts her to do good for her community and herself. 


The Night Diary

By Veera Hiranandani,

Book cover of The Night Diary

Why this book?

This book mirrors my mother’s flight from her hometown of Sinuiju in northern Korea to the south prior to the outbreak of the Korean War. The year was 1947. On a night full of moon and fear, my mother climbed over treacherous mountains and crossed a dark river in her quest for freedom, evading armed communist soldiers along the way. In The Night Diary, it’s the same year, 1947, but a different country and a different girl, and yet a similar story of family courage, of seeking refuge from violence. Young Nisha writes in her diary addressing each entry to her late mother, detailing in emotional and riveting fashion her family’s harrowing journey as the country’s partition (similar to Korea’s) eventually divides the land into two countries―India and Pakistan. A wonderful book―readers will be transported to another time and place.


Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of Number the Stars

Why this book?

Number the Stars is one of my all-time favorite books―a book that inspired me to take my family stories to the next level to publication. My father grew up an impoverished boy on the outskirts of Seoul, Korea during the Japanese occupation of the country. He witnessed the brutal beating of his young minister father at the hands of Japanese police who were threatened by the men of the cloth who were few and far between in 1930s Korea.

Similarly, in Number the Stars, protagonist Annemarie Johansen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark under Nazi occupation where an underground uprising against the Nazis called the Resistance helps Jewish people escape safely out of the country to Sweden before they’re sent to the concentration camps. Annemarie’s family, though not Jewish, risk their own lives by pretending the daughter of Jewish friends’ is their own. A powerful read with riveting events that made me ruminate about the Japanese farmer who hid my father deep in the mountains during World War II, protecting him from recruitment into the Japanese Army.  


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japanese Americans, North Carolina, and Denmark?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japanese Americans, North Carolina, and Denmark.

Japanese Americans Explore 28 books about Japanese Americans
North Carolina Explore 60 books about North Carolina
Denmark Explore 22 books about Denmark

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