Biographies for Kids: Asian Pacific American Heritage

Painting of Duke Kahanamoku

The unforgettable individuals featured in these books are remembered for a wide range of accomplishments as athletes, movie stars, inventors, and leaders. Yet they all shared the same determination to succeed despite numerous obstacles — most notably the persistent discrimination against Asian Pacific Americans and/or women. Learn how these resourceful heroes found a way beat the odds, leaving an inspiring legacy behind in the process.

Be Water, My Friend

Bruce Lee
Illustrated by: Dom Lee
Age Level: Middle Grade

In this tribute to martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Ken Mochizuki tells the story of Lee's childhood and youth in Hong Kong before coming to America. Dramatic illustrations evoking sepia photographs depict Bruce's power and grace as he mastered the martial arts throughout his young life.

El Chino

By: Allen Say
Age Level: 6-9

This remarkable story is based on the life of Billy Wong, a Chinese-American who travels to Europe, becomes fascinated with bullfighting, and decides to become a matador. Eventually, Billy's determination and recognition of what makes him unique helps him realize his dream. Luminous watercolors illustrate this sensitive picture book biography.

Honda: The Boy Who Loved Cars

Illustrated by: Katie Yamasaki
Age Level: 6-9

Young Soichiro Honda loved to figure out how things work, and better still, create his own inventions. As a young man, he struggled in school, but he soon became a successful mechanic and manufacturer — steps that would one day enable him to realize his dream of building motorcycles and automobiles. Mark Weston shares fascinating details of Honda's life story and Katie Yamasaki's whimsical paintings evoke Honda's pioneering spirit and imagination in this intriguing biography.

Inside Out and Back Again

Young girl holding onto tree
Age Level: Middle Grade

Shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Hà's family flees war-torn Vietnam. When they arrive in Alabama more than 3 months later as refugees, they struggle to adapt to a new life. Yet slowly Hà and her family begin to find their way, making friends in unexpected places and helping each other survive. Based on the childhood experiences of the author, this compelling novel won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Just Like Me: Stories and Self-Portraits by Fourteen Artists

Portraits of artists
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: This remarkable collection highlights the art and inspirational paths of 14 outstanding artists who, over the course of 20 years, have shared their art and lives with children. Each spread comprises a self-portrait, as well as the artist's personal story and reflections on what their art means to them. Artists include George Littlechild, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Enrique Chagoya, Rodolfo Morales, Tomie Arai, and Hideo Yoshida.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story

As a young boy, Hiroki Sugihara lived in Lithuania, where his father was a diplomat. One morning, the family woke up to find a crowd of people outside of the house. They were Jews from Poland looking for visas and safe passage to Japan. Despite the danger that he and his family would be in, Hiroki's father began writing visas for the refugees and continued for many days, saving thousands of lives — "Sugihara's survivors." This unforgettable story as remembered by Hiroki will resonate with readers for a long time to come.


Age Level: 6-9
Language: Chinese, English, Spanish, Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

As a young boy, Hoi comes to America from China to help build the railroad. Only a skinny boy at first, his love for American pies quickly helps him gain in size and strength — and earns him the nickname of Pie-Biter. Pie-Biter eventually became a successful trader with the help of Spanish Louis, and while no one knows what happened to Pie-Biter when he returned to China, travelers from China often talk about the pie shops in their villages — serving Pie-Biter's favorite flavors! Trilingual in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma

Yo Yo Ma playing the cello
By: Joanna Ho
Illustrated by: Teresa Martinez
Age Level: 6-9, 9-12

Before Yo-Yo Ma became one of the most renowned and celebrated cellists, he wanted to play the double bass. But it was too big for his four-year-old hands. Over time, Ma honed his amazing talent, and his music became a reflection of his own life between borders, cultures, disciplines, and generations. Yo-Yo Ma performed at the US-Mexico border at the Rio Grande on April 13, 2019, as part of his multi-continent “Bach Project” tour to prove a point—through music, we can build bridges rather than walls between different cultures.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

Anna May Wong
By: Paula Woo
Illustrated by: Lin Wang
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English

Anna May Wong grew up in San Francisco in the 1920s, working diligently in her family's laundromat but secretly daydreaming of becoming a movie star. When she set out to realize her dream, she soon discovered the lack of opportunity in Hollywood for Asian American actors. After traveling in Europe and China, Anna May ultimately decided to portray only roles she felt presented a positive image of Asians, leading the way for the many actors who followed in her footsteps.

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

Illustration of Sammy Yo
By: Paula Yoo
Illustrated by: Dom Lee
Age Level: 6-9

As an Asian American child growing up in California, Sammy Lee was only allowed to use the public pool on Wednesdays. But Sammy was not easily deterred from his dream of becoming an Olympic diver, and at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, he became the first Asian American to win a gold medal in U.S. history. Paula Yoo and Dom Lee skillfully bring Sammy's story to life in this inspirational biography.

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

Illustration of Duke Kahanamoku

"The Pacific Ocean was Duke's backyard." So begins the tale of Duke Kahanamoku, often considered the "Father of Modern Surfing." Duke won six Olympic medals as a swimmer, but surfing was his passion. Duke, who encountered discrimination throughout his lifetime, was also a hero, saving eight people singlehandedly from a capsized boat in 1925. Readers will enjoy discovering the story behind Duke's unforgettable legacy.

The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka'iulani

Painting of Princess Ka'iulani
Age Level: 6-9

Hawai'i was once an independent country ruled by a royal family. But, while Princess Ka'iulani was at school in England in the 1800s, the small island nation became part of the United States — and she never got a chance to become queen. This intriguing, quiet, bittersweet story presents a little known period and a real-life princess.

The Song of Mu Lan

The Song of Mu Lan
Age Level: 6-9

Jeanne M. Lee presents the ancient Chinese folk poem that tells the legend of Mu Lan. Dressed as a young man, Mu Lan goes to battle in her father's place and becomes a revered warrior even as those around her don't know her true identity. Beautifully detailed illustrations accompany the poem, as does a brief author's note. Bilingual English-Chinese.

The Story of Olympic Swimmer Duke Kahanamoku

Painting of Duke Kahanamoku
Illustrated by: Richard Waldrep
Age Level: 9-12

Growing up in Hawai'i with the Pacific Ocean as his backyard, Duke Kahanamoku learned to swim and surf at a young age. By his early twenties, Duke's lightning-fast swimming won him a place on the 1912 United States Olympic team and a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle race. Over the years Duke struggled with racism and financial troubles, but by the end of his twenty-year Olympic career, he was a six-time medal winner. Although he became a swimming champion, Duke's real passion was surfing.