AAPI Middle Grade Novels: 7 Must-Read Gems
by Micah Hirsch Ackerman
Imagine... a girl blending Paul Bunyon and Chinese Folklore into new stories as she copes with anti-Asian rhetoric in a California logging camp.
Or what if the ghost of a Chinese emperor possessed a video game headset and told you you must save the world?
These AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Middle Grade novels are only a handful of the own voices stories being published today and in the last few years.
If you’re searching for a Middle Grade novel for ages 8 through 12 (or older 😃) that will keep you awake until way past your bedtime, then check out these 7 novels.
We highly recommend them for their fantastic storytelling, voice, and suspense, while showcasing the wisdom of character’s you will fall in love with.
1. The Legend of Auntie Po
by Shing Yin Khor
Our first recommendation is a beautiful graphic novel for younger readers!
The Legend of Auntie Po was selected as a National Book Award Finalist for its powerful portrayal of a part of American history that doesn’t often get taught in schools - the experiences of immigrants from China who worked as lumberjacks in the 1880s.
In The Legend of Auntie Po, a young girl named Mei and her single-parent father navigate the world of a rural California logging camp, as May creates her own tall tales by blending the Paul Bunyan legends she hears from their white neighbors with the Chinese myths and stories her father teaches her.
But as anti-Asian rhetoric begins to take hold in California, May and her father must wrestle with how to keep themselves safe - and which of their friends and neighbors can be trusted to stick by their side and support their rights when push comes to shove.
2. Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee
If your young reader is a fan of adventures in space, Dragon Pearl is a fantastic choice!
In this space opera based on stories from Korean mythology, a young fox spirit, Min, runs away from home in search of her missing brother. She joins the intergalactic Space Cadets, where her brother had been serving before he disappeared, and is soon wrapped into a galaxy-wide mystery full of ghost pirates, space goblins, and the mysterious long-lost Dragon Pearl.
Dragon Pearl is perfect for anyone who loves the Percy Jackson series and is wanting more! In fact, it was even published by Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan’s publishing initiative, Rick Riordan Presents - which aims to expand young readers’ access to novels featuring non-European mythology.
3. The Last Mapmaker
by Christina Soontornvat
This award-winning adventure tells the story of Sodsai Mudawan, a young map-maker who hopes to use her skills to prove that poor girls like her are just as important as anyone else. She wins an apprenticeship with the Royal Mapmaker himself, who takes Sodsai along on a voyage tasked with claiming a mysterious treasure for the king.
As their ship gets further and further from home, and the secrets become more and more mysterious, Sodsai has to figure out who she can trust - and what sacrifices she’s willing to make for her future.
The world of The Last Mapmaker is set in the kingdom of Mangkon, which is inspired by Thailand and the powerful empires that have ruled there throughout history.
4. Amina’s Voice
by Hena Khan
Now that Amina’s in middle school, everything feels different. She’s never been comfortable in the spotlight, but she was always happy standing on the sidelines with her best friend, Soojin. But now Soojin is hanging out more and more with the “popular” girls, and is talking about changing her name to be “more American.” Amina doesn’t want to have to change anything about herself to be accepted or to be American, but that feels hard when it seems like so much of the country is afraid of people like her and her family just because they come from Pakistan.
When Amina’s mosque is attacked, she feels like she has to do something to stand up for herself and her identity as a young Muslim in America, but what?
Amina’s Voice is a powerful novel about the difficult questions that young people are forced to grapple with when they are confronted by ignorance and hate - and how diverse communities can come together to help each other in love and understanding.
5. Aruh Shah and the End of Time
by Roshani Chokshi
Another fantastic mythology adventure from Rick Riordan Presents!
In Aruh Shah and the End of Time, a young Indian-American girl, Aruh Shah, discovers that she is the reincarnation of one of the Pandavas - famous heroes from Hindu mythology - and that it’s up to her and the other reincarnated Pandavas to save the world!
The Aruh Shah series has five fantastic books in it, each of them full of mystery, adventure, and wonderfully-retold versions of Hindu legends!
6. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
by Xiran Jay Zhao
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor has maybe one of the most imaginative plots on our list!
When Zachary Ying and his mother fled from China’s oppression of Uighurs Muslims, he found himself as the only Asian student in a small Canadian town. He’s glad to be safe in a new country, but his new classmates make him feel like an outsider for being different, and sometimes all he wants is to get to fit in like any other Canadian boy.
So when a mysterious voice appears in his head, saying that it’s the spirit of the great first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and that Zachary is his descendant who’s fated to save the world, Zach isn’t exactly ready and willing to drop everything and travel halfway around the world on some mysterious spirit quest. But when Qin Shi Huang’s spirit tries to possess Zach to force him to go, it makes a mistake that only the spirit of an ancient emperor could - it possesses his video-game headset by mistake!
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is another incredible adventure story, and the first middle grade fantasy novel by award-winning YA author Xiran Jay Zhao.
6. Hello, Universe
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Our last recommendation for today is Hello, Universe, which won the Newbery Medal as the best novel for younger readers in 2018!
Hello, Universe is a moving homage to both Filipino folk tales and classic 80s coming-of-age movies like Stand By Me. Told from four interweaving points of view over the course of a single day, this powerful novel celebrates bravery, difference, and the power that comes from friendship and trust.
Full of lovable misfits, pranks, and lost guinea pigs, Hello, Universe is absolutely worth a read!
There are so many more incredible stories to read and celebrate during AAPI Month and all year round! If you're looking for more books, check out our Tyler Keen's list of his favorite middle grade graphic novels. Although there’s never enough space to fit every book we’d love to share on a single list, we’ll be back again soon with more recommendations!
Note that the links to the books above go to Bookshop.org. Any purchase here will allow Beyond the Box to collect a small commission at no cost to you. This amount over time will be used to host our free Meetup workshops. Thank you for your support!