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Revisiting Who’s Missing in Asian and Pacific Islander American Biographies

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, honoring the past and present contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander people to the creation and prosperity of the United States of America.

Like other cultural commemorations (Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, etc.) Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month celebrates people from a vast variety of nations and cultures! In fact, the umbrella terms of Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) describes people from more than 50 countries and territories of origin including:

The countries of the Asian Continent - From Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Central Asia), to Nepal and Mongolia (East), to Turkey and Yemen (Western), to Iran and Bangladesh (South), to Thailand and Indonesia (Southeast).

The Islands of the Pacific Ocean - New Guinea, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, Guam, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, and Tonga.

With such a diversity of countries of origin to cover, we thought we'd take a deep dive into our one-of-a-kind Diverse BookFinder Data and revisit some of the data we shared a couple of years ago.

What the Diverse BookFinder Data told us in 2020:

In a blog post from 2020, we examined the world of picture book biographies to explore how AAPI people were represented. Back then, we found that of the 3182 picture books in our collection at the time, only 17 (0.5%) were biographies that featured AAPI people. Within those 17, only 4 countries/territories of origin were represented; China, Japan, Korea, and Hawaii.

With such limited representation, we knew there was a lot of room for improvement. This Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month we're honoring the theme of Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration by taking another look at our data and seeing what changes two years may have brought.

What does the Diverse BookFinder Data tells us in 2022?

Chart showing the percentage of Asians and Pacific Islanders in Diverse Picture Books.
Chart showing the percentage of Asians and Pacific Islanders in Diverse Picture Books.

Out of the 4,534 total Picture Books that we have in our database today, 809 titles feature Asian/Pacific Islander/Asian American characters. At 17.8%, that's a pretty similar ratio to what we found in 2020 (18%).

Chart showing the instance of Biographies among Picture Books featuring Asian and Pacific Islander characters and the percentage of those biographies that feature Americans.
Chart showing the instance of Biographies among Picture Books featuring Asian and Pacific Islander characters and the percentage of those biographies that feature Americans.

Of those 809 titles, 106 are biographies. 36 of these biographies feature Asian Americans. That means that 0.8% of the diverse picture books published feature the lives of real Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Now you may think that number sounds quite small, but we've actually seen growth since two years ago when the number was just 0.5%.

Chart showing the different ethnic origins in Picture Book Biographies featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
Chart showing the different ethnic origins in Picture Book Biographies featuring AAPI people.

Taking a deeper look at the data, we examine the ethnic origins represented in these picture book biographies. We find that today, 10 separate ethnicities are represented:

  • 13 titles feature people with Japanese backgrounds
  • 9 titles feature people with Chinese backgrounds
  • 3 titles feature people with Indian backgrounds
  • 3 titles feature people with Native Hawaiian backgrounds
  • 2 titles feature people with Filipino backgrounds
  • 2 titles feature people with Korean backgrounds
  • People with Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, and Pakistani backgrounds are each featured in 1 title.

Our data shows improvement from the 2020 numbers when we only saw 4 ethnicities represented (we’ve since added a few books — see below — published earlier but not included in our data at the time). However, there remains a significant problem with underrepresentation in published picture book biographies featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

Six origin groups – Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese – accounted for 85% of all Asian Americans as of 2019. These groups together largely shape the demographic characteristics of the overall U.S. Asian population.

Pew Research Center

This data demonstrates the need for more — and more diverse — Asian American biographies overall, and in particular those featuring figures from ethnic groups that are hugely underrepresented in relation to their presence in the U.S.: Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Korean.

While people of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino, and Korean backgrounds are represented in our data, some of these identities are vastly underrepresented. People of Chinese background makeup 24% of the U.S. Asian population and are represented in 25% of our biographies. However, Indians and Filipinos make up 21% and 19% of the U.S. Asian population and are only represented in 3 (Indian) — 8.3% — and 2 (Filipino) titles — 5.6%. Even worse, while Vietnamese people represent a full 10% of the U.S. Asian population, there were no biographies in our database honoring the contributions of Vietnamese Americans.

Picture book biographies introduce children to real people who have made real contributions to American society. When picture books do not accurately represent the diversity of America and its people, we run the risk of implying that not everyone can contribute.

Our data shows improvement in representation since 2020. It also shows that there is still a long way to go. We hope that publishing trends will continue to move in a direction that fully represents the diversity of the U.S. Asian and Pacific Islander population and that embraces the opportunity to share their varied experiences.

After all, the true and full story of America cannot be accurately told without their stories.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.

Selected Titles Added to the Diverse BookFinder since 2020:

The Angel of Santo Tomas


by Tammy Yee

"Fe del Mundo’s sister dreamt of becoming a doctor—a big dream for a girl in the Philippines in the early 1900s. When her sister dies, young Fe vows to take her place, a promise she carries with her the rest of her life. In 1936 she becomes the first woman and first person of Asian descent to study at Harvard Medical School. When WWII begins in the Pacific, Fe faces a choice: remain in Boston, where she is safe, or return to the Philippines, where she is needed most. Fe follows her vision and returns home to care for the American and British children forced into the internment camp at Santo Tomas. Beautiful color drawings bring to life this gentle and courageous character, her family and her patients. The story of the courageous Dr. Fe del Mundo, recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for distinguished women “whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity,” and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, will inspire children to pursue science and medicine in the service of humanity." -- publisher

Biography Oppression & Resilience

Charlotte and The Nutcracker


by Charlotte Nebres and Alea Marley

"A reimagined and modern take on the holiday favorite, this picture book weaves together the classic Christmas tale of The Nutcracker and the true-life story of 12-year-old ballerina Charlotte Nebres, the first Black girl to play Marie in the New York City Ballet’s production. The only thing Charlotte loves as much as ballet is Christmas. So, when she gets the opportunity to play Marie in the New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker, she leaps at the chance. Dancing takes practice-hours of adjusting her arms and perfecting her jumps. With the help of her Trinidadian and Filipino families, encouragement from her sister, and a view of her mom and dad in the audience, Charlotte finds the strength to never give up. In this spectacular debut full of fluid, dynamic illustrations, Charlotte provides youngsters with a multicultural tale of family, dance, and holiday cheer." -- publisher


Flying Paintings: The Zhou Brothers: A Story of Revolution and Art


by Amy Alznauer, DaHuang Zhou and ShanZuo Zhou

"The epic story of two Chinese brothers who became art-world legends, illustrated with stunning paintings by the artists themselves First there was one Zhou brother, and then there were two. They lived in a bookstore with their grandmother, Po Po, whose stories of paintings that flew through the air and landed on mountain cliffs inspired them to create their own art. Amid the turbulence of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, the Zhou Brothers began painting together on the same canvas. Today, ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou are icons in the art world, renowned for working side by side on all their paintings and sculptures. In this extraordinary biography, author Amy Alznauer joins with the Zhou Brothers to tell the story of their unique and often difficult childhood and their pursuit of a wild, impossible dream. The lyrical writing blends elements of legend, while the brothers’ dramatic illustrations soar with vibrant colors and surreal imagery from ancient Chinese cliff paintings. An inspiration for young artists and dreamers of all kinds, this deeply felt collaboration explores how art can bring people together, as well as set them free." -- publisher




by Heather Gale and Mika Song

"An empowering celebration of identity, acceptance and Hawaiian culture based on the true story of a young girl in Hawai'i who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe at her school. Ho'onani feels in-between. She doesn't see herself as wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). She's happy to be in the middle. But not everyone sees it that way. When Ho'onani finds out that there will be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant, she wants to be part of it. But can a girl really lead the all-male troupe? Ho'onani has to try..."--

Beautiful Life Biography

How to Solve a Problem


by Ashima Shiraishi and Yao Xiao

"From Ashima Shiraishi, one of the world’s youngest and most skilled climbers, comes a true story of strength and perseverance—in rock climbing and in life. To a rock climber, a boulder is called a “problem,” and you solve it by climbing to the top. There are twists and turns, falls and scrapes, and obstacles that seem insurmountable until you learn to see the possibilities within them. And then there is the moment of triumph, when there’s nothing above you but sky and nothing below but a goal achieved. Ashima Shiraishi draws on her experience as a world-class climber in this story that challenges readers to tackle the problems in their own lives and rise to greater heights than they would have ever thought possible." -- publisher


Kamala Harris


by Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman

"Discover the incredible story of a young daughter of immigrants who would grow up to be the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American ever elected Vice President of the United States in this moving picture book biography of Kamala Harris. When Kamala Harris was young, she often accompanied her parents to civil rights marches—so many, in fact, that when her mother asked a frustrated Kamala what she wanted, the young girl responded with: “Freedom!” As Kamala grew from a small girl in Oakland to a senator running for president, it was this long-fostered belief in freedom and justice for all people that shaped her into the inspiring figure she is today. From fighting for the use of a soccer field in middle school to fighting for the people of her home state in Congress, Senator Harris used her voice to speak up for what she believed in and for those who were otherwise unheard. And now this dedication has led her all the way to being elected Vice President of the United States. Told in Nikki Grimes's stunning verse and featuring gorgeous illustrations by Laura Freeman, this picture book biography brings to life a story that shows all young people that the American dream can belong to all of us if we fight for one another." -- publisher


Kamala Harris


by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Lauren Semmer

"From the best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series, Kamala Harris tells the incredible story of the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to be elected vice president of the USA. In this book from the highly acclaimed Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the incredible life of Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to be elected vice president of the USA. Little Kamala used to accompany her parents to civil rights marches in California, strapped into her stroller so she wouldn’t get lost. From an early age, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer to help people in need. In school, Kamala felt like she could do anything and everything. She earned a law degree to make sure the most vulnerable were protected by justice. Kamala’s life was full of firsts, including becoming the first woman, Black woman, and South Asian American to be elected vice president. As Kamala stated to little girls everywhere in her speech—she may be the first but she won't be the last. This powerful book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the politician’s life." -- publisher

Biography Cross Group

Mindy Kaling


by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Roza Nozari

"In this book from the critically acclaimed, multimillion-copy best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the life of Mindy Kaling, the actor, writer, producer, and director. ? When Mindy was a little girl, she loved TV comedy sketches; in particular, Saturday Night Live. At college, she studied theater and met a friend with whom she created her first off-Broadway production. It was there she was spotted by the writer and producer of The Office (US) for the role of Kelly Kapoor. Mindy went on to write and executive produce hilarious episodes of The Office. She then went on to create The Mindy Project, and Never Have I Ever, the Netflix Original smash hit watched by 40 million people, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a director and writer. This empowering book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with photos and a detailed profile of Mindy’s life. Inspire the next generation of outstanding people who will change the world with Little People, BIG DREAMS!" -- publisher


Paper Son


by Julie Leung and Chris Sasaki

A picture-book biography of animator Tyrus Wong, the Chinese American immigrant responsible for bringing Disney's Bambi to life. Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing - which he loved to do - but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime - and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgrounds of Bambi. -- description from

Beautiful Life Biography Oppression & Resilience

Roots and Wings


by Amy Novesky, Shahzia Sikander and Hanna Barczyk

"Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander recounts how growing up as a tomboy in a multicultural home in Pakistan inspired her to become an artist Growing up in a multigenerational, multicultural home in Lahore, Pakistan, where her family’s Muslim traditions are filled with food and rituals, Shahzia is surrounded by stories of all kinds. At the Catholic school she attends, she studies Western literature, and at home, her father regales her and her siblings with fantastical tales from a Russian storybook on animals. Shahzia’s love for books leads to a fascination with illustrations, like the ones she sees in illuminated manuscripts and South Asian miniature portraits, and she discovers a talent for drawing. Through art, Shahzia is able to create the different worlds she reads about, using her imagination to take her beyond the walls of the home she grows up in. Written by artist Shahzia Sikander with award-winning author Amy Novesky, and featuring artwork, Roots and Wings is a colorful introduction to a multicultural perspective that will inspire young readers to use art and imagination to explore new worlds." -- publisher


Coming Soon to Diverse BookFinder:

Biographical Anthologies Featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Americans:

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Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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