Honoring Asian/Asian American Themed Middle-Grade Novels

After the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the world’s eyes have been on Japan recently.

So we at the Mixed-Up Files thought we would show our solidarity with the entire region by and spotlighting ten terrific novels about Asia and Asian America… and one bonus forthcoming novel!

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that two of these fantastic Asian/Asian American themed MG novels are from within our own ranks! (Hey, we figure shameless self promotion is always OK if it’s to get some great new books to kids!)


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Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (Amulet)


Although Manjiro, the young fisherman protagonist of Preus’ 2011 Newberry Honor book is 14, and so not technically a middle-grader, we had to start this list with a nod to this splendid adventure on the high seas. In fact, according to Publisher’s Weekly, Japanese television audiences can’t get enough of Preus and her book either!

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Tofu and T. Rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown)

Companion book to the also fabulously titled Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo, this novel is the story of militant vegan Frederika Mulchison-Kowalski, and her travails with her Japanese-Polish-German-American (and carnivorous) cousin Hans Peter, and their grandfather, who happens to own a butcher shop and sausage deli. Oh, and where is the T. Rex of the title? In the basement, of course…

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Bobby the Brave (sometimes) by Lisa Yee (Arthur A. Levine)



It was hard to pick just one book by this master of the middle grade voice. Middle graders will laugh out loud at the antics in of Bobby in this book as well as Bobby vs. Girls (accidentally). Yee’s first MG novel was Millicent Min, Girl Genius – and it begins trio of books written from the distinct points of view of three (kind of) friends. The fantastic Millicent is followed by Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time and So Totally Emily Ebers.


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The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, Young)


Although many are aware of Grace Lin’s 2010 Newberry Honor winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, don’t skip over the delightful The Year of the Rat, the sequel to The Year of the Dog. Grace is of course also an illustrator, and has a new book for younger readers, Ling and Ting, which is a 2011 Geisel Honor book.


Rikshaw Girl by Mitali Bose Perkins (Charlesbridge)

Although Mitali is well known for her YA novels, including her much awarded Bamboo People, the story of two teen soldiers in the modern day political turmoil of Burma, she also has works for middle graders, including Rikshaw Girl, the story of a young girl who must save her mother’s golden bangle and fix her father’s rikshaw. 


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Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

This new novel by the author of the YA series The Summer I turned Pretty is about Clara Lee, a kimchi-loving, fish-soup-hating, candy-necklace wearing, little girl who dreams of winning the Little Miss Apple Pie contest. Will her luck change in time for her to win?


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Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park (Clarion)

Twelve year old Kevin, who “couldn’t care less” about his heritage, is shocked when a ruler from ancient Korea shows up in his modern day New York bedroom, complete with bow and arrows. Weaving together the past and the present, Park creates an adventure of Korean history and lore as well as a modern day, faced paced sensibility.







The Dragon’s  Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep with Dr. Kathleen S. Yep (HarperCollins)

Based on two-time Newberry Honor winner Laurence Yep’s own family history, this historical novel follows ten-year-old Gim Lew Yep from a small village in Southern China to a ship bound for a new future in America.

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Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look (Schwartz & Wade)

It’s impossible not to adore Alvin Ho, or continue reading the other fabulous novels in this series. Lenore’s other young MG collection begins with Ruby Lu, Brave and True and is also going strong. Both Alvin and Ruby have new novels slated to come out this year!


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The Great Wall of Lucy Lu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Scholastic)

This fantastic new novel from our own Mixed Up Files blogger (holla!) is about Lucy Wu, a sixth grade ‘all-American’ basketball player, whose life is turned upside down with the arrival of an elderly relative from China, who not only makes Lucy eat Chinese food instead of pizza and hamburgers, but shares her room! About the walls a young girl must break down in order to discover her family history, identity, and inner strength.







Vanished by Sheela Chari (Hyperion, forthcoming)

And here’s another amazing novel – this one forthcoming – from a Mixed Up files blogger! (double holla!) Eleven year old Neela dreams of becoming a musician, but when her instrument – a stringed Indian sitar that was an heirloom from her grandmother – goes missing – she must follow the mystery all the way to India – and into her past!





Here are some more great resources to discover Asian and Asian American middle grade novels:

1. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website

2. BookDragon: The Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program

3. Pooja Makhijani’s annotated bibliography of South Asian Children’s Literature

4. My own website’s list of South Asian Children’s Literature

If you have other favorite Asian and Asian American inspired MG novels that aren’t above, please add them to the comments! Also, please do share your own resources for discovering wonderful Asian/Asian American MG stories!

Sayantani DasGupta can rarely find the grocery lists she spends so much time making. But she never loses a good book list! She hopes her own Bengali folktale-themed MG adventure will make such a booklist soon!