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It can be a mind-blowing experience for a young person to step out of the current world they know and immerse themselves in the past. While fantasy and mythical worlds can be a powerful draw, so can the real world, especially when the story unfolds during significant events that shaped the world we know today.
Below I have listed some excellent Asian and AAPI historical fiction for intermediate level readers. Not only do these titles bring history to life, but they also bridge the gaps between cultures and help diverse readers understand their own family history in their home country. Sometimes the backstory involves war or political instability. In these cases, it can be a difficult but life-changing realization when a young reader makes that connection to their family or the history of their people for the first time. Other times the stories are less traumatic and more hopeful. Either way, these titles speak truth, both emotionally and historically.
It’s important to note that all of these titles are written by authors of color who identify with themselves and can therefore speak authentically about their people’s past.
Kino and the king by Jen Angeli
Travel back in time to when the Kamehameha dynasty ruled Hawaii. Follow Kino as she is transported to 1825, where she meets 11-year-old Kauikeaouli, Hawaii’s longest reigning monarch. The adventure takes the reader around Oahu through encounters with sharks, boars, and the real people of the time.
Ahimsah by Supriya Kelkar
Winner of the New Visions Award, Ahimsa shines a light on the Indian Freedom movement. The family of ten-year-old Anjali respond to Mahatma Gandi’s call for Indians to give a family member to the freedom movement in 1942. Using ‘ahimsa’, non-violent resistance, they will stand up to the British government in the struggle for freedom. Follow Anjajli’s inspiring journey as she takes over her mother’s job when she is imprisoned during the struggle. Other historical fiction by this author include Strong as fire, fierce as flame.
Troublemaker by John Cho
Set during the events of Rodney King’s trial and the 1992 LA Riots, this story follows the dramatic escapades of a young Korean immigrant as he goes on a mission through the streets of South Central LA trying to do the right thing. . This novel grapples with so many things: Korean American identity, racial tensions, justice for black people, and the deadly power of guns. Its themes are more relevant than ever to today’s issues.
So far from the bamboo grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
This is a remarkable ALA book about a Japanese family fleeing their home in Korea at the end of World War II. The story is told from a perspective rarely heard in America and is based on the author’s own experiences. Follow Yoko’s journey as she escapes to Japan in this story about the plight of those caught up in war.
A single fragment by Linda Sue Park
This Newbery Medal-winning story takes readers to 12th-century Korea. An orphan boy from a Korean village becomes an apprentice to a master potter in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The lessons he learns along the way, however, run much deeper than the art of pottery. Other mid-level Asian historical fiction titles by this author include When my name was Keoko, prairie lotusand rocker girl.
The night newspaper by Veera Hiranandani
A Newbery Honor Book, The night newspaper is the story of a girl’s journey through India in 1947 as she is separated into two countries, Pakistan and India. Divisions between Hindus and Muslims tear Nisha, 12, apart as she tries to find her place. Beautifully rendered in an epistolary style, this book is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for identity.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
For insight into Korean history, this cross-generational story sets the stage for the Korean War through Junie’s connection with her grandparents. They talk about their experiences, the choices they made and the courage they needed during the war.
The revolution is not a dinner party by Ying Chang Compestine
For a window into what life was like growing up under Chairman Mao during Communist rule in China in the 20th century, pick up this book. It tells the story of 9-year-old Ling living in Wuhan, China, next door to one of Mao’s politicians…and, well, it’s not a dinner party. Can she survive, let alone thrive, under the oppressive regime?
Upside down and upside down by Thanhha Lai
Winner of the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book. Ha, a Vietnamese girl, is forced to flee Saigon and move to Alabama. Based on the author’s own experiences, the book is a moving account of Ha’s tremendous year of change. It is written in verse in a beautiful and honest manner.
His brother’s keeper by Julie Lee
As war descends on North Korea and South Korea in 1950, Sora and his little brother must flee communist North Korea alone. They must survive the journey during the winter through hundreds of kilometers in a war zone. This story offers insight into the realities of life under Communist rule and during the chaos of war.
Weeds by Cynthia Kadohata
Written by a Newbery Medal-winning author, Weeds takes readers to a time in American history when Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and livelihoods and live in internment camps due to fear of Japanese spies on the ground American. The story of 12-year-old Sumiko may be fictional, but the story rings true. Readers get a glimpse into the hardships of life for Japanese Americans as well as Native Americans whose reservation was located right next to them.
dragon gate by Laurence Yep
This Newbery Honor Book tells the story of a Chinese boy’s journey from China to California, where he joins a group of Chinese railroad workers on the most arduous and dangerous part of laying rails on the mountains. Part adventure, part survival, this historically accurate story will open many eyes to the hidden history of the building of America’s transcontinental railroad. The book is part of the work of the author Chronicles of the Golden Mountaina series of ten historical fiction stories, a very important contribution to Asian historical fiction for children.
For broader coverage of mid-level historical fiction, you don’t want to miss these 30 Fascinating Historical Fiction Books for Middle School Readers.