Cultural Diversity

Immigrant Experiences of Asian Americans: An Annotated Bibliography for Teachers of Grades 1-3

America has always been referred to as a melting pot.  As the U.S. population becomes “increasingly diverse and complex in terms of race, ethnicity, immigrant status, socioeconomic circumstances, and family structures” (as quoted in Brown et al, 2016, p. 75), it is critical that we teach about multiculturalism and diversity in our classrooms and more importantly,to work towards awareness and acceptance of cultural differences.

Culture shapes the way we perceive our environment. Hence, in a multicultural classroom, there is more than one way to view the environment. Teachers need to help their students to become aware of their own biases and learn to accept each other’s differences as a part of life so as not to marginalize others. If teaching cultural awareness and acceptance is neglected, the consequences can prove to be disastrous to a student’s well-being. A person’s culture is part of his or her identity and when it is not with acceptance, the rejection becomes a form of negation of self. This directly affects a person’s identity, self-concept and self-esteem, which in turn can potentially lead to poor performance, depression and inability to fulfill his or her potential, or worse. The impact can be deep and long-lasting.

Children’s awareness of differences manifests itself early on. As babies, we are born with the ability to differentiate for survival, e.g. our caregivers versus strangers. In the article “Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood”, it is mentioned that “by the time children reach toddlerhood, they can correctly discern racial differences and use gender labels [Ramsey, 2004], yet they still struggle with understanding exactly what these constructs mean [Sprung, 2007]” (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012, p. 24).  Further, research shows that contrary to opinion, prejudice exists in early childhood years.

In order to raise awareness in their students, teachers first need to be aware of their own biases and reflect on what they are as they are for they serve as models for the students in their classrooms.  Cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings. Not understanding a student’s cultural context “can result in misinterpretation of behavior such that students are mislabeled as behavior problems or having learning disabilities” (as quoted in Brown et al, 2016, p. 76).  Further, the “importance of teaching from students’ ‘everyday’ context [is] to not just make learning accessible but to empower them to transform their situation” (as quoted in Brown et al, 2016, p. 76-77)

The topic of cultural diversity and cultural bias is a familiar one to me, having immigrated to the U.S. at the young age of eight. I am familiar with the hardships and internal struggles an immigrant child can go through upon moving to a new country – how stereotypes can lead to identity crises and affect one’s self-esteem.  As Thomas & Stornaiulo pointed out in their article “Restorying the Self: Bending Toward Textual Justice, “when people only have access to a single story – one that simplifies and flattens the complexity of human experience and excludes many perspectives from being represented – they can become constrained in what they imagine to be possible.” (313-314). Thus, it is crucial for both teachers and fellow students to learn about diversity and acceptance of differences.  It is, after all, these differences that make us unique and special.

The following books have been curated to reflect the cross-cultural/immigration experiences of Asian children as they make their way in a new world with a new language, culture and people.  The books could be used to complement a unit on Asian studies.

Park, F., Park, G., & Choi, Y. (2002). Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society.

ISBN 9780792279853

Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong by Frances Park, Ginger Park, Yangsook Choi (Illustrator)

Summary: This book recounts the story of Jangmi, a young Korean girl, who is sad to leave her home at 382 Shin Dang Dong in Korea to move to America. In America, everything is different and strange.  Eventually, she starts to get comfortable and makes a new friend.

The rich, colorful oil-painted illustrations in this book capture the beauty of Korea and the moods of the stirring story. The authors portray the fears and anxieties Jangmi experiences as she leaves her old life behind, and the loneliness she feels in the new country with its new culture.

Teaching Suggestions: The story provides some information about Korea and how life is there. We get to find out the cultural differences through Jangmi’s eyes. Additionally, the story can help students to see how difficult it is for a young child to leave his/her country and friends behind and to start over in a strange, new place.

Choi, Yangsook. 2001. The Name Jar. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

ISBN 978-0375906138

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Summary: A young girl named Unhei moves from Korea to America. She considers changing her name because others have difficulty pronouncing it. In the end, she decides to keep her given Korean name.

The book’s illustrations are expressive and nicely detailed, and at the same time simple but engaging. The plot is well-organized and has character development. The author captures the inner conflicts one experiences in trying to fit in a new culture.

Teaching Suggestions: In this book you learn about Korean culture, heritage, diversity, uniqueness, acceptance and self-acceptance. The book can be used to 1) help students learn how it feels for someone to come to a different country with a different culture; 2) help students learn about accepting the differences that make each of us unique; and 3) help students see how much our names are a part of our identity.


  • 2003 Emphasis on Reading Award – Nominated
  • 2003 Beehive Children’s Book Award – Nominated
  • 2004 California Young Reader Medal – Nominated
  • 2004 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award – Nominated
  • 2005 Grand Canyon Reader Award – Nominated
  • 2005 Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award – Nominated

Recorvits, H., & Swiatkowska, G. (2003). My name is Yoon. New York: Frances Foster Books.

ISBN 9781250057112

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, Gabi Swiatkowska (Illustrator)

Summary: Yoon is resistant to writing her name in English because she does not like the way it looks with lines and circles standing alone – which is how she feels in her new country, the U.S. She tries out different words she learns as her name – CAT, BIRD, CUPCAKE. She eventually writes her name in English as she gets used to being in her new home.

The author captures the emotions of young Yoon – sadness, loneliness, discomfort, misunderstanding and frustration – as she tries to find her place in a new country. The illustrations make the words come alive, e.g. Yoon’s face is drawn half-cat/half girl as she imagines herself to be a cat.

Teaching Suggestions: This story can be used to help students learn empathy and compassions as the emotions conveyed are accessible and relatable, especially to young children being in a new place or situation. The students can explore these emotions and think of ways to make a new person feel comfortable in a new environment.  Additionally, they can think of how to help integrate the new person into their community.


  • 2004 ALA Notable Children’s Books
  • Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award
  • 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year
Yang, B. (2004). Hannah is my name. Cambridge, Mass: Candlewick Press.

ISBN-13: 9780763635213

Summary: This book is about a young immigrant girl who moves to San Francisco from Taiwan.  Her parents work very hard but the family does not have green cards and always worry about getting caught. They eventually get their green cards.

This book, a combination of realistic fiction and historical fiction, shows the real-life hardships immigrant families might go through.  The illustrations in the book were unique, detailed and engaging with vibrant colors and added to the cultural vista with picture of Taiwan and Taiwanese immigrants.

Teaching Suggestions: The story could be used to help students gain a more realistic portrayal of immigrant hardships.

Students can gain a deeper understanding of what their immigrant classmates might go through. Activities can lend themselves to teaching empathy and raising awareness of other groups.

Surat, M. M., Vo, D. M., & Lakeshore Learning Materials. (1994). Angel child, dragon child. Carson, Calif.: Lakeshore Learning Materials.

ISBN 9780590422710

Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat, Vo-Dinh Mai (Illustrator)

Summary: The story tells the immigrant experience of Ut, a Vietnamese girl who moves with her father and siblings from Vietnam to America. Her mother has to stay behind in Vietnam because they cannot afford to bring everyone to America. Ut tries to adjust to her new life in America but the children in her school make fun of her clothes and the way she speaks, particularly a cruel boy named Raymond. As punishment for fighting, the two are instructed to write each other’s stories. A friendship begins and Raymond is actually the one who comes up with a way to get Ut’s mother to America.

[The title: Angel child refers to tolerating others and being good in the eyes of Ut’s mother. Dragon child means that she is not tolerant and and not patient with others.]

According to James Banks’s (1989) “Levels of Integration of Multicultural Content,” this book reached the highest level of 4 for effective integration of multicultural content for the situation in which the students employed problem solving and social action as they displayed critical thinking and self-assessment to fix a problem presented within their classroom community. The illustrations are simple but beautiful as they follow the text.

Teaching Suggestions: Students get to see the story from two perspectives (native and foreign): Raymond, the American boy and how he views a new foreign student and Ut from Vietnam and how she is handling being in a new place. The story bullying, culture/ethnicity/immigration, and social action/problem solving. Discussions can promote the idea of acceptance and empathy.


  • ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice

  • CBC/NCSS Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

  • Reading Rainbow Selection

Phi, B. (2017). A Different Pond.


Expected publication: August 1, 2017 by Picture Window Books

ISBN 1479597465 (ISBN13: 9781479597468)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, Thi Bui (Illustrations)

Summary: This story provides a glimpse into a relationship between father and son and between cultures, old and new. The story takes place during a long-ago fishing trip, where we learn that the family had moved to America from Vietnam and the family fishes for food because things in America are expensive. We also learn about life in Vietnam and their struggles in the new country.

Acclaimed poet Bao Phi’s words are beautiful and enchanting in this simple story of a fishing trip. The illustrations in this book are strikingly done by graphic novelist, Thi Bui.

Teaching Suggestions: This story can teach children about the immigrant/refugee experience of the Vietnamese in the 1980s. Through discussions, teachers can hopefully help to foster compassion and empathy about immigrants and their struggles.

Lai, T., Shappell, R., Harper., & HarperCollins (Firm). (2011). Inside out & back again. New York: Harper.

ISBN 978-0-06-196278-3

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Summary: The author recounts her own childhood in this story of ten-year old Hà Ma, whose family is forced to flee Saigon and board a boat to America. The family lands in Alabama, where Hà finds the new world to be foreign, the strangers cold and the food dull. Through it all, Hà also discovers the strength of her own family.

This story is simply written in free-hand verse.  The heartfelt emotions are artfully captured in this powerful tale of the Vietnamese immigrant experience.

Teaching Suggestions: The story can help students to see how it was for the Vietnamese refugees to escape Saigon before the fall as they fled on a boat towards freedom in another country. Students will hopefully gain a better understanding of the confusion, pain, rejection and isolation the children experienced upon coming to their new and strange environment, one that is supposed to provide them with safety, security and freedom.


  • #1 New York Times bestseller

  • 2011  Winner of the National Book Award  

  • 2012  Winner of John Newbery Award

Rattigan, J. K., & Hsu-Flanders, L. (1993). Dumpling soup. Boston: Little, Brown.

ISBN 9780316730471

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, Lillian Hsu-Flanders (Illustrator)

Summary:  Marisa is an Asian-American girl in Hawaii whose diverse family (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and Haloe) all come together every New Year to celebrate.  This year Marisa gets to help prepare dumpling soup as part of the family’s New Year tradition. She is worried because her dumplings all look different and are oddly shaped, but in the end her dumplings taste just as good as all the other ones.

The illustrations shows the Hawaiian landscape in lovely colors.  They complement the story and its portrayal of a diverse culture. The author, whom the story is based on shows the distinction of each culture in this mixed family and how each are important to the family’s identity.  Multiple languages are used in the story in a natural manner that is easy to understand.    

Teaching Suggestions: This story can help students to learn about foods, languages and traditions from the Asian culture.  Though Marisa’s family is of a mixed heritage, they all belong as a community. The students can learn how a fellow American from a different part of the U.S. celebrates New Year.


  • 1990 New Voices, New World Multicultural Fiction Contest Winner

Jules, J., & Mitter, K. (2009). Duck for Turkey Day. Morton Grove, Ill: Albert Whitman.

ISBN 9780807517345

Duck for Turkey Day

by Jacqueline Jules, Kathryn Mitter (Illustrator)

Summary: This is a story about a Vietnamese girl, Tuyet, who becomes upset when she finds out her family will be having duck rather than turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. She is afraid of doing something “incorrect” in her new culture until she finds out that her fellow classmates have different experiences on Thanksgiving Day as well.

Teaching Suggestions: This story could help students learn about how different cultures celebrate can celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving (ex. eat duck, enchiladas, or lamb). Discussions can promote understanding and acceptance that “the right way” is not the only way.


  • 2012 Washington State Children’s Choice Book Awards nominee

  • Tennessee Volunteer State Book Awards 2012-2013 nominee, Primary Division

  • NCSS Notable Book for Young Readers  

Ashley, B., & Brazell, D. (2008). Cleversticks. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt.

ISBN 9780757533709


by Bernard Ashley, Derek Brazell (illustrator)

Summary: This book is about a boy, Ling Sung, who could not tie his shoes,paint, or button his jacket like some of his classmates. He finally finds what he is good at when he uses his paint brushes to pick up something. Using his “cleversticks” become his special talent as it is something the other students cannot do.

The bright and vivid illustrations are realistic and engaging for the young readers this book is geared towards.

Teaching Suggestions: This book can help children to learn about valuing differences and to understand that we all have different gifts and talents that make us unique.  The book can be empowering to immigrant student as they already have so much to learn and may lose sight of what they have to offer.

Clickard, C., & Wu, K. (2017). Dumpling dreams: How Joyce Chen brought the dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge.


Expected publication: September 5th 2017 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

ISBN 9781481467070

Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge

by Carrie Clickard, Katy Wu (Illustrations)

Summary: This book is written as a poem to depict the story of Chef Joyce Chen, famous for popularizing Chinese food in the United States. Joyce Chen was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. when she was young.

The rhymes in this book are fun and the illustrations are just delightful with their bright colors.

Teaching Suggestions: Students are introduced to chef Joyce Chen in this fun picture book biography. Discussions can cover Chinese food and how the Chinese and different cultures have contributed to American cuisine and other aspects of life.

Say, A. (2014). Grandfather’s journey.

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

Summary: This book is both biographical and autobiographical as Allen Say recounts his grandfather’s story of immigrating to the U.S. and falling in love with the country. Homesick for his native country, Japan, he moves back with his grown family to Japan, only to become homesick for the U.S., specifically California. He never makes it back because of World War II but his grandson, Allen Say, makes that journey back to the U.S. later on.

The illustrations show the beauty he found in both countries and how he considers both home.

Teaching Suggestions: This book could be used to show a comparison of the two countries.  Discussions could include the idea of belonging to two different cultures.  This book could also be a part of an author study of Allen Say and his works.


  • 1993 California Book Award – Silver Medal for Juvenile

  • 1994 Caldecott Medal

  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon

  • ALA Notable Book

  • Booklist Editors’ Choice

  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award

  • Horn Book Fanfare Selection

  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

  • New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year

Say, A. (2009).  Tea with milk.

ISBN-13: 978-0547237473

Tea with Milk by Allen Say

Summary: Following Say’s tale, Grandfather’s Journey, Tea with Milk recounts the story of Say’s mother, Masako/May. Masako and her parents had moved to San Francisco when she was a child. While there, she is called May and comes to learn about life and culture in the U.S. Her parents become homesick for Japan and move back with Masako/May as she is just starting high school. Masako tries to adapt to her

life but experiences difficulties as she is alienated in her society for her different ways.

Say’s figurative language are complemented beautifully with his poignant watercolor illustrations that masterfully capture Masako/May’s loneliness and alienation in this picture book memoir.

Teaching Suggestions: The story can be used to look at the similarities and differences between America and Japan. Discussions could include exploring the idea of “home.” Additionally, students can think about how they would feel if they were May.

Say, A., & Houghton Mifflin Company. (2009). Tree of Cranes. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin.

ISBN 978-0547248301

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

Summary: A young Japanese boy catches a cold while looking for fish in his neighbor’s pond. His mother takes care of him when he comes back inside. He thinks she is angry at him but she is busy folding several origami cranes and digging up a small tree from the family’s yard in order to share some of the Christmas traditions in her homeland, the United States.

The story, like many of Allen Say’s books, juxtaposes two cultures (Japanese and American) through its text and artwork.

Teaching Suggestions:  Students may gain a new perspective and appreciation for Christmas as they read about it from this perspective. Additionally, students are exposed to various aspects of Japanese culture: traditional Japanese architecture (including tatami mats; futons; narrow, deep bathtubs; and showering right on the bathroom floor), the wearing of kimonos and the traditional Japanese art of origami.  


  • ALA Notable Book

  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon

Friedman, I. R. (1995). How my parents learned to eat. Carson, Calif.: Lakeshore Learning Materials.

ISBN 9780395442357

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman, Allen Say (Illustrations)

Summary: This story is told from a little girl’s perspective as she tells about how her parents met. Her father was an American naval officer, and her mother was a Japanese school girl. Her father wanted to ask her mother to marry him but they had never shared a meal together. Her father was ashamed because he did not know how to eat with chopsticks, and her mother was ashamed because she did not know how to eat like an American. Eventually, her parents agreed to learn the customs of each other’s cultures, and were later married.

Teaching Suggestions: The story can help students to learn about acceptance of differences and learning from one another.


  • ALA Notable Book

  • Horn Book Fanfare Selection

  • Reading Rainbow Review Book

Iijima, G. C. and  Billin-Frye,P. 2014. The Way We Do It in Japan. New York: AV℗ø by Weigl.

ISBN 9781621278993

The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima, Paige Billin-Frye (Illustrator)

Summary: Gregory’s dad’s company sends him and the family to Japan. He learns about the language, the food, the money, the furniture, the baths and more. Gregory finds many things strange but feels welcomed when the other kids

bring him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Teaching Suggestions: The story could help the students to learn about differences between American and Japanese cultures and customs.  The story could also be good to show as a reversal – with an American moving to a different country with a different culture. You get the perspective of the American being an immigrant. Discussions can include cultural differences and ways to make someone feel welcome in a new environment.

Mak, K. (2016). My chinatown: One year in poems. Place of publication not identified: Harpercollins Childrens B.

ISBN 9780064437325

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

by Kam Mak

Summary: This book is a picture book of poems about the family and culture of a boy’s first year in the U.S. after moving from Hong Kong to Chinatown. He spends his childhood in Chinatown and grows to love the food, games and people there.

The books is written completely in simple verse, chronologically told and organized according to the  seasons in Chinatown.  Vivid illustrations along with sensory details of the sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown bring the book to life.

Teaching points: This book can be used to introduce the idea of immigration and settling into a new community. Students get to learn about the different traditions of the Chinese culture. Read-alouds lend themselves well to the poetry and figurative language.  The book could  be used as an addition to a lesson on the Chinese New Year, or during a poetry unit.


  • 2003 ALA Notable Children’s Books

Kim, P., & Sánchez, S. (2015). Here I am.

ISBN 978-1-62370-036-2

Here I Am by Patti Kim (Author), Sonia Sánchez  (Illustrator)

Summary:  The stunning illustrations in this wordless picture book tell the poignant tale of a boy who immigrates to a city in the U.S.

There are no words needed in this book. The evocative pictures say it all. We see the confusion, anxiety and the loneliness on the face of the boy in his new country. The colors become brighter and the signs, which started out as gibberish, become legible words as the story progresses and as he becomes used to the new country.

Teaching Suggestions: This book would be good for older or mature elementary students as some of the pictures are more complex in their interpretation. This story could be used for a writing activity, in which small groups of students can discuss the pictures and respectively write a beginning, middle and end to the story. The stories are then put together and shared with the whole class.


  • 2013 Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books

Teaching Scenario:

All of the books listed above can be used to supplement social studies lessons on topics of immigration and different cultures. While learning about the differences and similarities of other cultures, lessons conducted can promote empathy and acceptance of differences and diversity.  The Name Jar, My Name is Yoon, Hannah is My Name, Angel Child – Dragon Child, A Different Pond and Inside Out and Back Again could be used to point out the struggles and hardships an immigrant child might experience.  The social dimensions alone should be addressed, as it is important for every child to feel emotionally secure in their environments in order to succeed.   Angel Child – Dragon Child, A Different Pond and Inside Out and Back Again could be used when studying about Vietnam and the refugee experience.

Additionally, Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey, Tea with Milk and Tree of Cranes (along with other of Say’s works) could all be part of an author study in the language arts that could be conducted in tandem with a social studies/history lesson of Japan.


Brown, E. L., Vesely, C. K., & Dallman, L. (2016). Unpacking Biases:

Developing Cultural Humility in Early Childhood and Elementary Teacher Candidates. Teacher Educators’ Journal, 9(Spring), 75-96. Retrieved April 13,

Mcrae, A., & Ellis, J. B. (2012). Early Childhood Perceptions of Diversity: A

Case of Addressing Multicultural Education in the Classroom. Journal of Teaching and Learning, 8(1), 13-26. doi:10.22329/jtl.v8i1.3001

Ponciano, L., & Shabazian, A. (2012). Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 40(1), 23-29. Retrieved April 13, 2017, from

Thomas, E. & Stornaiulo, A. (2016). Restorying the Self: Bending Toward

Textual Justice. Harvard Educational Review, 86(3), 313 -338.



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