May is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, and as I reflect on my knowledge of AANHPI history, I’m struck by serious gaps in my education. Not until I was an adult did I learn about Fred Korematsu, who brought a Supreme Court case against the U.S. government over the incarceration of Japanese Americans, or about Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the kingdom of Hawai‘i. When I was young, these people and events never appeared in the curriculum or were relegated to brief sidebars in textbooks. Thankfully, we’re seeing more children’s nonfiction that shines a much-needed spotlight on AANHPI experiences and contributions, with picture books and middle-grade titles proudly proclaiming that AANHPI history is U.S. history. Today’s young people will grow up with a far richer understanding of the past—and, hopefully, the tools to create a better future.

AANHPI history is complex; those seeking an accessible primer should look to Naomi Hirahara’s A Child’s Introduction to Asian American and Pacific Islander History: The Heroes, the Stories, and the Cultures That Helped To Build America (Black Dog & Leventhal, April 9), illustrated by Sarah Demonteverde. While Hirahara addresses the oppression experienced by AANHPI people, she also lists significant historical sites, explores traditions from hula dancing to Lunar New Year, and profiles legendary figures such as Pulitzer Prize–winning Vietnamese American author Viet Thanh Nguyen. The result is a vibrant, illuminating celebration of culture and history.

The inspired use of figurative language has long been a hallmark of Joanna Ho’s picture books; her latest, We Who Produce Pearls: An Anthem for Asian America (Orchard/Scholastic, April 16), is no exception. Her spellbinding verse pays tribute to Asian Americans’ tenacity in the face of bigotry, brought to life by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s luminous art. Each stanza is laced with cultural and historical meaning; the guiding questions in the backmatter will provoke thoughtful discussions.

“Why do we need to learn this?” is a question often posed by bored history students, but it’s one kids won’t ask after reading Erika Lee and Christina Soontornvat’s Made in Asian America: A History for Young People (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, April 30), a young readers’ adaptation of Lee’s The Making of Asian America (2015). Sweeping yet deeply personal, the book examines the circumstances under which various ethnic groups made their way to the United States while also focusing on their shared experiences of exploitation and discrimination. Though the powerful and privileged are usually the ones to be enshrined in history textbooks, Lee and Soontornvat demonstrate that ordinary, marginalized young people have played pivotal roles in shaping the trajectory of the United States.

With My Lost Freedom: A Japanese American World War II Story (Crown, April 30), illustrated by Michelle Lee, activist and actor George Takei once more describes his family’s experiences of imprisonment following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this time in picture-book format. Offering a gentler take on the events he detailed in his 2019 graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, he’s nevertheless forthright about the anguish he endured; readers will be saddened, angered, and determined to do better. (Read an interview with Takei.)

Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.