Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with Stories

Booklist for children under 5 and the caregivers that support them

National Head Start Association
7 min readMay 7, 2021

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! Did you know Head Start and Early Head Start support nearly 32,000 Asian American children and more than 7,000 Pacific Islander children? Part of what makes Head Start unique is its impact for children and families in every U.S. state and territory, including 11 grantees on the islands of Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Palau, and the Northern Marianas.

Head Start’s diversity is what makes our community strong. This month and every month, we’re proud to celebrate the many unique AAPI cultures in our programs! We encourage you to check out some of our favorite books featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander characters.

Kids feel valued and validated when they see their own experiences reflected on the pages of books, and they develop curiosity and empathy when they read about experiences different from their own. To help our Head Start community create windows and mirrors, we’re having some of our favorite stories for young readers and staff to enjoy.

Books for Early Head Start Children (Under 3)

“More More More,” Said the Baby

Written and Illustrated By: Vera B. Williams

Share this Caldecott Honor-winning book with the little ones in your life. Vera B. Williams’s tribute to babies and the people who love them is a happy celebration — you won’t be able to stop smiling while reading the catchy refrains. For lap time, classroom reading, or anytime, and for parents, teachers, grandparents, and anyone who enjoys chanting along “more more more” with babies. Shelve this alongside Moo Baa La La La, Giraffes Can’t Dance, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Up to My Knees!

Written and Illustrated By: Grace Lin

Caldecott Honor winner Grace Lin celebrates math for every kid, everywhere! Mei explores measurement as she plants a sunflower seed and watches it grow. The plant starts off as tall as her toe, but soon it’s up to her knees, then her waist, then her shoulders. How tall will it get? This fun book was developed in collaboration with math experts at STEM education nonprofit TERC, under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

I Look Up To… Malala Yousafzai

Written by Anna Membrino; Illustrated by Fatti Burke

It’s never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire — such as Malala Yousafzai, the activist for girls’ education and Nobel Peace Prize winner! This board book distills Malala’s excellent qualities into an eminently shareable read-aloud text with graphic, eye-catching illustrations.

12 Lucky Animals: A Bilingual Baby Book

Written by Vickie Lee; Illustrated by Joey Chou

Using the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, this bright and appealing board book introduces the youngest of readers to the names of animals in both English and Chinese, using Chinese characters alongside their pinyin (romanized spelling). Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig — readers will love finding out which zodiac animal they are!

Books for Head Start Children (Under 5)

Drawn Together

Written by Minh Lê; Illustrated by Dan Santat

When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens — with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words. This book was named a Best Book of 2018 by the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Smithsonian, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, BookRiot, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library — and many more!

The Most Beautiful Thing

Written by Kao Kalia Yang; Illustrated by Khoa Le

Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States. When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother — a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth — who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most. Stunning illustrations from Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le bring this intergenerational tale to life.

Dim Sum for Everyone!

Written and Illustrated by Grace Lin

In English, dim sum means “little hearts,” or “touches the heart,” but to this young girl, dim sum means delicious. On a visit to a bustling dim sum restaurant, a family picks their favorite little dishes from the steaming trolleys filled with dumplings, cakes, buns, and tarts. And as is traditional and fun, they share their food with each other so that everyone gets a bite of everything. Just right for young children, Dim Sum for Everyone! celebrates a cultural custom and a universal favorite activity–eating!

Cora Cooks Pancit

Written by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young; llustrated by Kristi Valiant

Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish. This story delightfully captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage.

Ghosts for Breakfast

Written by Stanley Todd Terasaki; Illustrated by Shelly Shinjo

The pounding on the door brings three unexpected guests to our young narrator’s home — Mr. Omi, Mr. Omaye, and Mr. Ono. The Troublesome Triplets, as they are called because they always seem to have some sort of complaint, have just seen ghosts — dozens of them — in Farmer Tanaka’s field! The ghosts were long and thin and white, very white, and they were dancing in the moonlight. Set in California in the 1920s, this delightful father-son story speaks to all young children who yearn to overcome their fears. Readers also come to realize the hazards of jumping to conclusions, for things aren’t always what they seem.

Books for Head Start Staff and Caregivers


By Haruki Murakami

If you love 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez you might enjoy Murakami, the Japanese author who takes you to new places and spheres with magical realism in this book with the main character, Aomame, a Japanese woman telling us her story alternating between two worlds in 1984.


By Min Jin Lee

Immigration plays an important role in any countries’ history. This poor Korean family portrays the story of four generations and their resolve to control their own destiny capping in 20th Century Japan.

The Joy Luck Club

By Amy Tan

A classic for the Asian American experience, four Chinese women find themselves meeting to play mahjong in San Francisco in 1949. From four daughters to four families they experience tragedy and turn that loss into something more.

The Mountains Sing

By Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Set in the backdrop of the American-Vietnam War, this novel depicts how war destroys families and countries alike. The writing is beautiful, thought evoking, and draws you in to understand the path of the Tran family.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

By Anne Fadiman

To understand a people’s history one must first understand where they come from. Hmong people, arguably, one of the most misunderstood Asian people in America will tell you in this book how they became a casualty of American war and found their new home in America — ironic.

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini

This hard to forget and painful story of children and how they grow up in war-torn Afghanistan is an evergreen tale of the impacts of adult decisions on the lives of children. Many lessons abound in this novel — humanity, resilience, and love of self.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

By Jung Chang

As the title suggests, the modern history of China is told through the real life stories of three generations of women. Beginning with the grandmother, she tells of when women had their feet bound for beauty, to her mother’s interplay with the Cultural Revolution and the Community Party, to Chang resisting the expectations of her culture and country.

Let us know your favorites and share how your program is celebrating AAPI Heritage Month by sending photos to stories@nhsa.org.



National Head Start Association

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