During the 2021 Olympics, kids — and yes, some of us adults — all over the world were jumping up and down and cheering on their favorite athletes, thinking “I’m going to be just like you when I grow up!”
After all, pro athletes in this country have always been role models for kids, inspiring them to dream big through hard work, grit, and resilience. But for many AAPI kids over the years, buried underneath all that daydreaming, a nagging little voice was also saying, “But none of those athletes looks like me.”
It’s true there have been pro AAPI athletes in the USA as far back as 1927 (Kenichi Zenimura and Walter Achiu) and even AAPI Olympians in 1948 (Victoria Manalo Draves and Sammy Lee). Yet despite the fact that it’s one of the fastest-growing U.S. ethnic groups, the AAPI population is still largely underrepresented in professional sports.
But as more AAPI athletes are defying the stereotypes that say they are unsuited for modern sports, their stories are being told and their faces are getting recognized — giving AAPI kids an extra boost of motivation. Now, more than ever, these kids can more easily find posters, memorabilia, and books about AAPI athletes to help fuel their inspiration.
So, in celebration of the Olympic year and of all the AAPI athletes who have competed professionally over the decades, here are 12 books about AAPI athletes for both kids and adults.
Books About AAPI Athletes for Kids and Teens
Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice by Karen Chen (Foreword by Kristi Yamaguchi)
In this memoir, U.S. figure skating national champion Karen Chen — a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants — shares her journey, from starting in skating at 5 years old to overcoming a nearly career-ending injury to winning several National Championship medals as a teenager. The book includes a foreword by Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, as well as photos and behind-the-scenes details from Chen’s life on and off the ice.
Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe
Often considered the father of modern surfing, native Hawaiin Duke Kahanamoku was also a six-time Olympic medal winner during his 20-year Olympic career. This is the story of Kahanamoku’s journey as a competitive swimmer and passionate surfer who introduced surfboarding to Australia and mainland USA. Throughout his life, despite his financial struggles and encounters with racism, Kahanamoku was known for his modesty and sportsmanship.
For the slightly older set, Crowe penned this chapter book about Kahanamoku: The Story of Olympic Swimmer Duke Kahanamoku
Michelle Kwan: Heart of a Champion by Michelle Kwan
Written in her own words when she was a teenager, this is the story of Michelle Kwan, Olympian, national and world champion figure skater, and daughter of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong. Along with revealing the personal sacrifices she and her family made in order for her to continue high-level training early in her career, Kwan shares what it feels like before, during, and after competitions. A16-page insert of full-color photos plus a glossary of skating terminology is included in the book.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Based on his own life experiences, Mochizuki’s picture book sheds light on both the sport of baseball and Japanese American internment camps during World War II. The protagonist, Shorty, and his family — along with thousands of other Japanese Americans — have been relocated to a camp in the middle of the hot, dusty desert with nothing to look forward to anymore. Shorty’s father solves the problem by building a baseball field inside the barbed wire fences and guard towers. Soon, Shorty and other camp residents get caught up in the games and begin to understand how a sport provides not only opportunities for distraction and victory, but most importantly, a way to gain dignity and self-respect.
Women in Sports: Chloe Kim by Mary Hertz Scarbrough
The youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal, Chloe Kim, whose parents are from South Korea, pushed the boundaries of her sport to establish an unparalleled standard of skill and style. In addition to Chloe’s journey of dedication, this book offers full-color pictures, a glossary of terms, plus reading and teaching tips.
Check out more books about Chloe Kim:
Pro Sports Biographies: Chloe Kim by Elizabeth Raum
Chloe Kim (My Early Library: My Itty-Bitty Bio) by Meeg Pincus and Jeff Bane
Who Is Chloe Kim? by Stefanie Loh (available for preorder)
The Story of Olympic Diver Sammy Lee by Paula Yoo and Dom Lee
Sammy Lee, a Korean American diver, was the first AAPI athlete to win an Olympic gold medal — and this biography shares his journey. Lee’s challenges started early. At 12 years old, he — like all people of color in 1932 — was only permitted to use the public swimming pool once a week. Still, he found a way to keep practicing, but was soon torn between his own dream of being an Olympian and his father’s hopes for him to become a doctor. This book tells the story of how Sammy Lee achieved both things and includes illustrations, glossary, recommended reading, and more.
Check out Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, also written by Paula Yoo.
Always Dream by Kristi Yamaguchi
“Always dream” is the trademark phrase of Kristi Yamaguchi, the legendary Olympic champion, U.S. champion, and two-time world champion figure skater. Yamaguchi, a third generation Japanese American, writes about relying on her determination and love of the sport to overcome obstacles and tragedy during her successful skating career.
This anthology features the stories of 17 AAPI female athletes, including Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Julie Chu (hockey), Natasha Kai-Marks (soccer), and more extraordinary athletes across a variety of sports. Each woman has prevailed over her own obstacles in order to compete at the highest level.
Books About AAPI Athletes for Adults
Holding Serve: Persevering On and Off the Court by Michael Chang with Mike Yorkey
In this memoir, Korean American tennis pro Michael Chang shares his life journey — on and off the court. Chang writes about how his parents, despite not having much in the way of resources, supported his and his brother’s development in tennis. In addition to descriptions of his training, his competitions, and his interactions and friendships with other tennis greats — including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and John McEnroe — he also reflects on how his discipline, faith, and value system impacted his athletic career.
Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity by Timothy Dalrymple
Written shortly after the NBA’s first American-born Taiwanese player, Jeremy Lin, rose to stardom during his success as a starting point guard with the Knicks, this biography reveals the story behind the player. Exploring how Lin’s faith, family, education, and cultural inheritance shaped his success, the book also includes interviews with basketball experts, AAPI thought leaders, and pastors.
A Journey: The Autobiography of Apolo Anton Ohno by Apolo Anton Ohno with Nancy Ann Richardson
“Why am I doing this?” This question, Olympic champion speed skater Apolo Ohno writes in his memoir, was the one he asked himself time and time again. The answer was always that he loved to skate. That passion helped Ohno — the son of a Japanese-born father — overcome uncertainty, loneliness, and his relentless inner critic to rise to incredible success as an athlete. In this book, Ohno describes how he had to learn to face his fiercest competitor — himself — in order to become a true champion.
Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion by Jennifer Mario
This biography of Korean American golf phenom Michelle Wie was published shortly after she became the youngest female golfer to turn pro. It reveals the story behind her rise to success, including how she became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA tournament, play in PGA Tour events, and win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. In addition to details about Wie’s life, the author, an experienced golf writer, provides interesting information about the sport itself.
All of the athletes featured in these books are helping pave the way for the next generation of AAPI kids, whether they’re aspiring athletes or just motivated by examples of hard work and resilience. But these athletes’ stories are meant to inspire all of us, not only to give our all and dream big, but also to celebrate, encourage, and support diverse heroes and voices in American sports and athletics.