18 Children’s Books About Asia

Asia is a vast and culturally diverse continent that includes the Middle East (e.g. Afganistan, Iraq, and Lebanon) and Southeast Asia (e.g. India, Thailand, and Indonesia) as well as China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. For our Read Around the World adventure, we are spending two weeks reading about the Middle East and Southeast Asia and two weeks reading about China, Japan, and Korea. 

Our trip to Asia offers opportunities to try many delicious new foods including sushi, peanut noodles, and samosas. Perhaps we should rename our trip Read and Eat Around the World! 

Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek by Minfong Ho and Holly Meade. A father and daughter engage in a playful game of jut-ay (Thai hide-and-seek). This is one of my children’s favorite books; they enjoy searching for the daughter hidden on each page. Illustrator Holly Meade received a Caldecott Honor for Hush!: A Thai Lullaby, and Meade’s illustrations in Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek are equally impressive — colorful and textured, with unusual perspectives. Ages 2+

My Cat Copies Me by Yoon-duck Kwon. A young Korean girl describes playing with her cat. Cat-loving children everywhere will be able to relate to the girl’s love for her cat. Ages 2+

What Should I Make? by Nandini Nayar and Proiti Roy. A young Indian boy forms a ball of dough into a snake, a mouse, a cat, and a lion before rolling it flat and baking a big round chapati. Ages 3+

Ten Mice for Tet by Pegi Dietz Shea, Cynthia Weill, To Ngoc Trang, and Pham Viet Dinh. A counting book that describes preparing for and celebrating Tet, the Vietnamese new year. The highlight of this book is To Ngoc Trang’s illustrations — colorful, intricate, embroidered scenes of mice preparing for Tet. Ages 3+

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park and Ho Baek Lee. A young girl enthusiastically helps her mother prepare bee-bim bop, a popular Korean dish, for dinner. Bee-bim Bop! is sure to get kids excited about trying this dish, and thankfully the foresighted author includes a bee-bim bop recipe in the endnotes. Ages 3+

Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan and Yunmee Kyong. An entertaining story of sibling rivalry with a twist — the sibling is a chicken! A young Pakistani girl is jealous when her mother seemingly pays more attention to a chicken than to her. Ages 4+

I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi. Describes the big events and celebrations that occur in a year in the life of seven-year-old Mimiko. I love the detail included in the lovely, watercolor illustrations (e.g. illustrations of Mimiko’s top ten favorite meals). Ages 4+


Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond and Allan Eitzen. A deceptively simple, well-written story of a girl who plants a cherry tree and cares for the tree as she grows up. Cherry Tree is set in the Himalayan foothills of northern India where, according to the story, there are not many fruit trees. My children both love this book…perhaps because of the lovely illustrations, perhaps because they enjoy imagining themselves growing older. Ages 4+

Rice is Life by Rita Golden Gelman and Yangsook Choi. In rhyming verse, Rice is Life describes scenes in an Indonesian sawah (a wet rice field) throughout the growing season. Sidenotes provide quite a bit of information about how rice is grown in Indonesia. Ages 4+


The Trip Back Home
by Janet Wong and Bo Jia.
A carefully crafted story about a young girl who visits her mother’s family in Korea. The Trip Back Home describes the daily routines the girl shares with her Korean relatives during her stay: helping her grandfather stoke a fire each morning, feeding her relative’s pigs, accompanying her grandmother on trips to the market, etc. Ages 4+

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami and Jamel Akib. Told from the perspective a young girl, Monsoon describes the anticipation of waiting for a monsoon to arrive near the end of a long dry season in India. I also like Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth and Yoshiko Jaeggi which describes a young boy and his grandfather joyfully playing together in the rain. Ages 4+

Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges and Sophie Blackall. A wonderful, moving story about a girl Ruby who lived in old China at a time when girls were expected to get married rather than attend university. While Ruby’s Wish does not describe modern China, I include it on the list because it is an outstanding book with beautiful illustrations, excellent writing, and a remarkable story. Author Shirin Yim Bridges clearly explains that this book is set in the past. Ages 5+

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi and Ned Gannon. This story of three siblings and their family observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan conveys the excitement of children as Eid approaches. The White Nights of Ramadan includes engaging dialog and information about the customs and meaning of Ramadan. Ages 5+

Geeta’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in an Indian Village by Prodeepta Das. Describes a day in the life of a young girl Geeta in an Indian village. Geeta watches her grandmother do her morning puja (worship), eats breakfast, goes to school, plays games and eats lunch with classmates, visits vendors on her way home from school, eats dinner, and goes to bed. Photographs help children imagine life in India. Prodeepta Das has also written Prita Goes to India, a travelog of a young girl Prita’s trip to visit relatives in India. Ages 5+

Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihah Nye and Nancy Carpenter. A lovely portrayal of the connection between a grandmother and granddaughter despite the miles and language barrier between them. When the granddaughter visits her grandmother (Sitti) in Palestine, the two learn to communicate without words and enjoy baking flat bread, drinking lemonade with mint leaves, and brushing Sitti’s hair together. Ages 5+

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams, Khadra Mohammed, and Doug Chayka. The story of two girls who meet in a refugee camp in Pakistan and become friends. Ages 5+

Shanyi Goes to China by Sungwan So. Readers are invited to accompany Shanyi on her trip to China to explore the country where Shanyi’s parents were born. Shanyi visits relatives throughout China and has the opportunity to explore a fishing village, eat dim sum, learn to write her name in calligraphy and much, much more. Ages 6+

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young. According to author Mark Reibstein, “Wabi sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious.” Wabi Sabi describes this concept to kids via the story of a curious cat named Wabi Sabi who searches for the meaning of his name. Wabi Sabi is an excellent introduction to haiku, a short form of Japanese poetry. Ages 6+

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9 Responses to 18 Children’s Books About Asia

  1. Hi! I’m a publisher from Malaysia. Love your site! Please let me know how I can send you some children’s books in English from Malaysia – with our compliments. Linda.

    • Amy says:

      Hi, Linda. Please, send me an email at amy dot broadmoore at gmail dot com. I am updating my Read Around the World booklists, so this is good timing. -Amy

  2. These are all lovely titles. I’ve read Wabi Sabi and enjoyed that too – I have not read all the others yet, and I’m pretty excited to check them all our in our libraries here in Singapore. Great collection! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Kristen says:

    Yay! I can’t wait to check these out! THANKS!

  4. Kristen says:

    I know it’s hard to incorporate EVERYTHING when you are studying such a big region (Asia), but we couldn’t find either of the Japan books you mentioned at our (small) local library. I checked out some other ones and mentioned them here –> http://www.mundoclassroom.com/blog/2011/08/18/japan-books/ Do you recommend any other great Japan reads? (My kids are kind of stuck in a Japan phase right now, lol). I’m thinking my mom might be able to grab us a stack from her (larger) library. Thanks!

    • Amy says:

      Great question! I often have back up books to recommend and am sad that I cannot fit all of the books that I love on these booklists, but I have not found many good books set in contemporary Japan. A few others to consider: My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe, Japanese Celebrations by Betty Reynolds, and A Carp for Kimiko by Virginia Kroll (I have heard that this last story is dated). There are some excellent books about Japanese who have immigrated to the United States. Esp. look for books by Allen Say!

  5. I dropped by to let you know that your blog has been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award. Congrats! Follow this link to know what you need to do next.

    http://books4learning.blogspot.com/2011/04/versatile-blogger-award.html

  6. This is a great list … it is so helpful to have kid-tested books when selecting something to expand a young reader’s understanding of other cultures.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks, Terry! Testing all of these books on my kids is a big part of my process of putting together these lists. I first read through a big stack of books and throw out books that are not contenders and that I don’t want to spend time reading with my kids. I then spend a week or two reading the books I like with my kids. I pay attention to which books my kids keep asking for and which I enjoy reading to them repeatedly. My kids’ favorites on this list are Peek!, Cherry Tree, Geeta’s Day, and Ruby’s Wish. They also really like Silly Chicken, I Live in Tokyo, Monsoon, The White Nights of Ramadan…ok, pretty much all of them. That’s why the books made the list.

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