Growing up never seeing yourself represented on book covers is that something you can’t really understand unless you’ve experienced it. That feels like a self-explanatory statement but something that often still needs to be addressed in publishing today.
Speaking for myself, part of my nearly non-existent self-esteem as a preteen and teen definitely had something to do with feeling “other.” Don’t get me wrong, there were a few picture books I had a kid and some books with Asian protagonists, but finding a book with one (or *gasp* two!) person of Asian descent given the main real estate was sadly not something I experienced often.
That’s why making these round-ups just make my heart absolutely sing. Whether through models or illustrations, covers are getting more and more diverse across the board. And it’s not just a certain age group or genre, although there are some with a larger percentage (see fantasy and romance) but changes are being made. This is not a comprehensive list by any means and the fact that this list actually had to condensed is a feat unto itself.
So to all Asians out there — I hope this list makes you feel a little less alone and that you add a few new titles to your TBR.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
Be still my heart. This book needs to be read to every kid who has felt out of place because of their eyes. One of the best elements of this book is that the conversation doesn’t stem from teasing or bullying, it’s a little girl making an observation and asking her mom about it. Ho also has a companion slated for publication in 2022 from a young boy’s perspective that I cannot wait to read as well.
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali
We need more body-positivity children’s books — this one was so uplifting and cute. Laxmi is a young Indian American girl whose friends begin to point out her “whiskers” on her upper lip, and that’s when she starts to see other body hair she has. Laxmi’s parents are there to give her affirmations and explain that hair isn’t just for heads.
Yang Warriors by Kao Kalia Yang and Billy Thao
Set in Ban Vinai refugee camp, this story follows a group of Hmong children and how they adapt to their new reality within the camp. Yang based the book off of her own experiences and it’s such an honest look at what Hmong people and other ethnic groups endured after fleeing communist rule in Laos.
Middle Grade Books
Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva
Jolina is fed up with Claudine’s teasing and taunts. So she decides to get revenge. Her grandfather has been teaching her arbularyo (Filipino term for folk medicine or magic healers), but she’s still very much a beginner. Despite this, she decides to make a gayuma — a powerful love potion. And to her surprise, it works! Maybe even too much so. Claudine now wants to be her best friend and can’t Jolina can’t get rid of her. Reviewers have noted the accuracy and authenticity of Filipino culture and representation.
Cover Art by Abigail L. Dela Cruz, Book Design by Baily Crawford.
Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui
Nimra has always gone to an Islamic school, but when she starts middle school she’s making the change to public school. She’s hurt when her best friend, Jenna, begins to treat her differently in public due to her hijab, and she will do anything to get her back. So Nimra accepts an invitation to join the school’s boy band, Barakah Beats. It’s along the way she comes to love her bandmates and how they respect her faith. This book is slated for publication October 19, 2021 by Scholastic Press.
Cover Illustrated by Javeria M. Talha, Designed by Yaffa Jaskoll.
The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim
A new release from Rick Riordan’s imprint, this debut tells the story of Riley Oh, an adoptee who dreams of joining the Korean Khom clan that the rest of her family belongs to. But when she turns 13, her worst fears are realized: she has no magical powers, mostly likely due to her birth parents not being witches. Desperate, Riley turns to her older sister for help. Hattie hatches a plan to share her powers with Riley, but things don’t go as smoothly as planned.
Cover Art by Vivienne To, Cover Design by Joann Hill
Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan
Give me all the fake dating tropes! Karina is a quiet, Bangladeshi teen who was an impulse decision to pose as the girlfriend of the school’s resident bad boy. Although Karina has every intention of cutting things off when their 28-day facade is over, she can’t help but be charmed by Ace and his shenanigans.
Cover Direction by Gigi Lau, Cover Artist: Samya Arif
A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen
Liza and her mother don’t see eye-to-eye, especially when it comes to dating and upholding traditional Taiwanese values. The one thing they can come together on is their shared love of baking. So when Liza agrees to help with the annual competition at her mother’s bakery, she’s shocked to find out that all of the contestants are young, eligible Asian American men that Mrs. Yang has deemed acceptable for Liza to date.
Design by Dana Li
The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Nami is a biracial (Japanese-white) teen who has just graduated high school and is ready to start the rest of her life. Sadly, this plan is immediately cut short when she is murdered on the way to her class’ graduation party. Upon waking, Nami finds herself in a void known as the Infinity that holds the consciousness of humans who have died. But things are not well — there is an evil AI determined to eradicate the world and the only ones who can stop it are the residents of the Infinity.
Cover Illustrated by Casey Weldon, Designed by Laura Eckes
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
In a retelling of The Great Gatsby, Vo takes this well-known story and completely turns it on its head while still remaining very faithful to the narrative. The cast of characters is incredibly diverse and is told through Jordan’s perspective — in this book, our Jordan is queer, Vietnamese, and adopted.
Cover Art by Greg Ruth, Design by Christine Foltzer
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
The start of Tasha Suri’s newest trilogy, this book follows Malini, a princess who is being held captive by her dictator brother. Malini rarely has human contact other than for Priya, a maidservant to arrives to clean her chambers every night. Priya is one of the last children who survived the deadly fire set in the very chambers Malini is kept in. The two barely communicate but their fates get twisted when Malini accidentally reveals her powers in front of Priya, and they realize they can both help each other.
Designed by Lauren Panepinto, Illustration by Micah Epstein
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
Huong, along with her sons, Tuan and Binh, make the decision to immigrate to America while Cong, the patriarch of the household, stays in Vietnam. While there are plans for Cong to join them eventually, Huong slowly comes too the realization that she’s alone and her sons will grow up without a father. In the years following, Huong meets a new man, Tuan joins a local gang, and Binh (now going by Ben) has assimilated and is losing his Vietnamese identity.
Design by Chip Kidd