History and Historical Fiction: Asian Pacific American Heritage (Grades 7-12)

The genre of historical fiction offers a dramatic study of history at an emotional level. It makes the past come to life and engages students as they begin to connect events with individuals. The commonplace details and little known facts of history that permeate historical fiction will not only surprise and engage readers, but inspire questions and critical thinking.

Our Asian Pacific American Heritage historical fiction list features stories about young people coming of age against historical backdrops, including the Han Dynasty, the Mongul Empire, Colonial India, and China's Cultural Revolution.

A Million Shades of Gray

Eleven-year-old Y'Tin is the youngest elephant trainer in his village. When the Vietcong invades, Y'Tin and his friend Y'Juen flee into the jungle where they care for a beloved elephant and search for relatives who survived the attack. Torn between his love for his animal and the lure of safety in Thailand, Y'Tin grapples with his future.

Aleutian Sparrow

Illustrated by: Evon Zerbetz
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

The Aleuts were dramatically affected by both Japanese and the American forces during World War II. How they were relocated from their small island in the Pacific and relocated to the coast of Alaska is hauntingly told by Vera, a young Aleutian/Caucasian girl.

Bamboo People

While his father is in prison for treating a leader of the democracy movement, 15-year-old Chiko is drafted into the Burmese military. Trained to fight the rebel Karenni people, Chiko soon finds himself at the mercy of a young Karenni rebel fighter whose village was attacked by Burmese soldiers. Will the two remain enemies?

Butterfly Yellow

Illustration of young Vietnamese woman surrounded by butterflies

In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms — and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country. Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn't know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her. Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh.

Climbing the Stairs

Though it's unusual for a girl in colonial India, 15-year-old Vidya's father supports her dream of attending college. When her father — an advocate of nonviolence — is severely injured in a protest against British rule, Vidya not only loses her best advocate, but she's forced to live with her very traditional grandfather. Vidya's quest for independence mirrors that of her country.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam

Rick Hanski is headed to Vietnam. There, he's going to whip the world and prove to his family and his sergeant -- and everyone else who didn't think he was cut out for war -- wrong.  When Cracker is paired with Rick, she isn't so sure about this new owner. He's going to have to prove himself to her before she's going to prove herself to him.

Daughter of Xanadu

In 13th Century Mongolia, Kublai Khan's 15-year old granddaughter Emmajin dreams of becoming a brave warrior — not a wife. While dodging potential suitors, she's dispatched by Khan to investigate the newly arrived Westerner, Marco Polo. Emmajin befriends Polo and the two fight dragons, lions, and enemy soldiers on a journey across China. This story has something for everyone: adventure, intrigue, romance, and history.

Eyes of the Emperor

Japanese Americans in Hawaii during World War II identified themselves as Americans, but their fellow enlisted soldiers didn't necessarily see them that way. In this historical novel, Eddy and his friends join the Army to defend their country, only to be the victims of vicious discrimination by their commanders.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement
By: Paula Yoo

America in 1982: Japanese car companies are on the rise and believed to be putting U.S. autoworkers out of their jobs. Anti–Asian American sentiment simmers, especially in Detroit. A bar fight turns fatal, leaving a Chinese American man, Vincent Chin, beaten to death at the hands of two white men, autoworker Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. Paula Yoo has crafted a searing examination of the killing and the trial and verdicts that followed.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #1: The Serpent's Children

Girl in front of father

When villagers call Cassia and her brother, Foxfire, "the serpent's children," they mean it as an insult. But to Cassia it is an honor, for legend says that once a serpent sets her mind on something, she never gives up. And in a time when famine, drought, and violence mark her family's life, Cassia has nothing less than survival to fight for. Their father is a revolutionary, determined to free China from invaders. Foxfire, certain he'll find a mountain of gold, flees to a faraway land.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #2: Mountain Light

Young man and young woman standing together

Their families fought one another for generations, maintaining an age-old blood feud. But that changed when they found themselves on the same side of a new struggle against the tyrannical Manchu dynasty. By devoting himself fully to the revolution, Squeaky Lau wins Cassia's trust — and her heart. But winning Cassia's love is not enough. Now Squeaky must prove his worth as a man — to Cassia, to his villa village, and most importantly, to himself.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #3: Dragon's Gate

Worker with shovel

In 1867, Otter travels from Three Willows Village in China to California — the Land of the Golden Mountain. There he will join his father and uncle. In spite of the presence of family, Otter is a stranger among the other Chinese in this new land. And where he expected to see a land of goldfields, he sees only vast, cold whiteness. But Otter's dream is to learn all he can, take the technology back to the Middle Kingdom, and free China from the Manchu invaders.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #4: The Traitor

Young man with friend

In the Wyoming territory in 1885, life is tough, especially for Michael Purdy. An outcast in the small town of Rock Springs, he's either bullied and bloodied, or ignored. Michael feels he might as well be a ghost in this rough coal-mining town. But life is even harder for Joseph Young, a Chinese American boy and Michael's secret ally. Despised by the white miners, the Chinese work in dangerous conditions, struggling against poverty and racism.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #5: Dragonwings

Son and father fly a kite together

Moon Shadow is only eight years old when he sails from China to join his father in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 1900s. Readers travel through history, gaining insight about being Chinese in America in this thoroughly researched, riveting novel. Written for young adolescents, this Newbery Honor winner is part of the Golden Mountain Chronicles.

Golden Mountain Chronicles #7: Child of the Owl

Young woman with her grandmother

Set in the mid-1960s, 12-year-old Casey knows little about her Chinese background and only identifies herself as an American. When she moves to Chinatown in San Francisco to live with her maternal grandmother, she feels alienated and isolated, though she gradually comes to accept and understand her Chinese background. Written for young adolescents, this award-winning book is part of the Golden Mountain Chronicles.

House of the Red Fish

Life for 14-year old Tomi Nakaji and other Japanese-Americans living on the Hawaiian island of Oahu has changed radically since the bombing of Pearl Harbor the previous year. He confronts violence, despair but ultimately finds hope in this gripping sequel to Under the Blood-Red Sun (1994).

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

From the day a horse stepped on her tiny foot and crippled her, Oyuna's life has been intertwined with these animals. Now a grandmother, she tells her young granddaughter of her escapades riding in Kublai Khan's military and her role in saving the Khan's herd of white horses.

Prairie Lotus

Prairie Lotus
Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story.

Rice Without Rain

When Jinda comes to trust the outsiders from Bangkok, her life in rural Thailand is changed forever. Poetically told and thematically sophisticated, this riveting novel provides a glimpse into the Thailand of the 1970s.

The Night Diary

Hands reaching across a divide

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. 2019 Newbery Honor Book and Walter Honor Book, Younger Readers Category.


Sumiko and her family are shipped to a Japanese internment camp in one of the hottest places in California after the events of Pearl Harbor. She was raised in California on a flower farm and now instead of flowers, she must endure dust storms regularly. In her old life she was accustomed to being the only Japanese girl in her class. Now they find themselves on an Indian reservation and are as unwelcome there as anywhere. She finally finds a friend in one Mohave boy. There they do their best to rebuild their lives and create a community.

When My Name Was Keoko

Siblings Sun-hee and Tae-yul take turns narrating this story of Japan's occupation of Korea during WWII. As the occupation intensifies, Koreans are forced to change their names and forbidden from speaking their language, and members of the Kim family struggle to retain their personal and cultural identities.

When the Rainbow Goddess Wept

Old sepia photograph of a family together

Nine-year-old Yvonne Macaraig's family flees their pleasant home in Ubec City to join a guerrilla movement in the jungle during the 1941 Japanese invasion of the Philippines. She grows to realize that even if her family survives and retires to their home that nothing will ever be the same.