Asia is a vast continent of over 4.55 billion people, living in 48 different countries and representing even more cultures, religions, and languages. And yet, when many white Americans hear the word “Asian” or “Asian-American,” they have a very narrow idea of who that represents.
For that reason, we hope to explore specific cultures more deeply through children’s literature, in the hopes that we can begin to recognize individual cultures and their unique experience.
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This list takes a closer look at books with Korean and Korean-American main characters. Some are contemporary stories, and others explore Korean folklore and history. They cover topics like the challenges of immigrating, fitting in with family, and why food is such an important part of culture.
Reading these books is a great way to introduce your children to Korean characters and culture, but they’re also a powerful tool for showing the universality of many of the things we experience. No matter who we are or where we’re from, family, food, and friendship shape our identity.
20 Korean Books for Kids
No Kimchi For Me! by Aram Kim
Everyone in Yoomi’s family loves kimchi…except Yoomi. She thinks it’s too spicy and too stinky. When her brothers tease her for not liking the pickled cabbage dish, her grandmother helps her find a way that she can enjoy kimchi, too.
This book is great for kids ages 3 and up, and it includes a recipe for kimchi pancakes!
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Unhei is very nervous about starting school in America after moving from Korea. She’s especially anxious about whether or not the kids at school will be able to pronounce her name, so decides to pick an American name. When her classmates learn she will be choosing a new name, they all write down ideas for her and put them in a jar, hoping to help her pick the right one. But along the way, a new friend learns her Korean name and its special meaning, and soon Unhei has no need for a name jar.
You can also find this book on our list of books about immigrants and refugees. I recommend reading it with kids ages 4 and up.
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee
Food is such an important part of culture, and no one knows that better than Chef Roy Choi. This nonfiction book looks at Chef Choi’s life and career, and how he blended the food and culture of his birthplace Korea with the food and culture of his home in Los Angeles.
This dynamic, gorgeously illustrated picture book is perfect for kids ages 5 and up.
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
Bee-bim bop, or “mixed up rice,” is a traditional Korean meal made of rice, meat, and vegetables. In this spirited picture book, a young girl is helping her mother make bee-bim bop. She shops with her mother, helps prepare the meal, and finally gets to enjoy her tasty treat.
This rhyming book is such a fun read, and I recommend reading it with toddlers and preschoolers.
Father’s Rubber Shoes by Yumi Heo
Yungsu is having a hard time adjusting to life in America. He doesn’t have friends, and his father is too busy working to play with him. His father uses a story about a pair of rubber shoes to explain to Yungsu that he wants his son to have more than he did. Yungsu understands, and as he begins to make friends, his view of America changes.
I recommend this book for children ages 5 and up.
The Have a Good Day Cafe by Frances Park and Ginger Park
Mike’s family operates a food cart where they sell things like bagels, orange juice, and hot dogs. When a similar cart sets up shop just down the street, the family worries that their business might fail. However, Grandma, who has just come from Korea to live with the family, has a great idea. Mike and Grandma wake up early, and instead of the traditional American treats, they cook Korean food to sell at the family food cart.
This book is an excellent example about how we can learn about different cultures through the food they eat. I recommend reading it with kids ages 5 and up.
Yoori has always lived in South Korea, and she has never known what it’s like not to have enough to eat. However, her father Appa is very familiar with this feeling. Appa grew up in North Korea, and escaped to South Korea in search of a better life. Together, Appa and Yoori decide to work together to help feed the people in North Korea, by sending over rice in balloons.
This powerful story about how anyone can make a difference is perfect for kids ages 4 and up.
Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo
Young Sammy Lee loved to watch the divers at the local swimming pool. He longed to join them, but as a Korean-American, he was only allowed to swim in the pool one day per week.
Despite this limitation, Sammy worked hard to become a champion diver, alongside working to fulfill his father’s goal of Sammy becoming a doctor. Sammy not only became a doctor, in 1948 he became the first Asian-American to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
This powerful biography is great for children ages 6 and up.
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak
Juno’s grandmother lives far away, in Seoul. She can’t write in English, and Juno can’t write at all yet, but they find a way to communicate by exchanging letters and drawings. Juno’s parents read the letters to him, and he sends his grandmother drawings that show what is going on in his life. Because of his pictures, Grandmother knows Juno wants her to come visit. A toy plane sent in the mail shows Juno she is on her way.
This book is great for kids ages 3 and up
Where on Earth is My Bagel? by Frances Park and Ginger Park
Yum Yung longs for a New York bagel. However, Yum Yung lives in Korea, where bagels are hard to find. How can a child in Korea get his hands on a genuine New York bagel? With some determination and help from friends, Yum Yung is able to realize his dream.
This picture book is lots of fun, and great for reading with children ages 4 and up.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee
After the end of the Korean War in 1953, a demilitarized zone was created between North Korea and South Korea. The area is blocked off by razor wire and no one is allowed in. And yet, behind this sharp fencing, a beautiful natural wonderland blooms.
This book shows the bittersweet juxtaposition of a beautiful space cut by a symbol of division. Told through the eyes of a grandfather who dreams of being able to enjoy the beauty of the DMZ again, this story will tug at your heartstrings.
I recommend reading this book with kids ages 5 and up.
Cooper’s Lesson by Sun Yung Shin
Cooper hates being “half and half,” half Korean and half caucasian. He doesn’t feel like he fits in with either side of his family, and his cousin never misses a chance to make him feel bad about being different. Cooper feels most out of place in Mr. Lee’s grocery store, where Mr. Lee has scolded him for not speaking Korean.
It’s a mistake made at Mr. Lee’s store that leads Cooper to begin to understand more about his identity. He begins to see that who people are is deeper and more complicated than he initially realized.
This bilingual book has Korean and English text, and is a good choice for kids ages 5 and up.
This bright and cheerful nonfiction picture books takes children on a journey though the holidays, customs, traditional clothing, and food of Korea. It has recipes, activities, and crafts to help children learn more about the traditions that people living in Korean observe.
This book is great for reading together, but kids will also enjoy exploring it on their own. I recommend it for kids ages 7 and up.
The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Rhee
Sun-sin dreams of going on adventures and traveling the world. However, he is a poor boy living in Korea, so his chances for adventure are slim. Instead, he spends his time playing with his pet turtle Gobugi.
When the king announces a competition to find the best design for a ship, Sun-sin sees a way to make his dreams come true. Inspired by Gobugi, he designs a ship that is sure to capture the attention of the king.
This story is an excellent choice for children ages 5 and up.
Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim
Danbi is looking forward to attending her new school in America…until she gets there. Everyone stares at Danbi, and it’s very clear that she doesn’t fit in. However, when Danbi creates a new game that they can all play together, she realizes she has much more in common with her new classmates than she originally thought.
This sweet story is a fun read for kids ages 4 and up.
The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea by Anna Sibley O’Brien
This engaging piece of folklore tells the story of Hong Kil Dong, the son of a noble who is kept from many privileges because his mother is a commoner. Hong takes on a crusade to not only claim what is rightfully his, but also to make things more fair and just for those in his community.
The original story this picture book is based on is said to be the first novel written in the Korean language. I recommend sharing it with kids ages 7 and up.
We Eat Rice by Min J. Hong
This early reader is great for children who are just learning to read on their own! It shows a Korean American boy and girl who are enjoying rice in all kinds of ways. Also available from the publisher in Spanish!
I recommend this book for emerging readers ages 5 and up.
Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak
The first day of school is scary for any child, but Sumi is especially scared. She’s only lived in America a short time, and the only phrase she knows in English is, “Hello, my name is Sumi.” School is loud and intimidating, and some children are mean to Sumi. She’s not sure she can get through the day. However, a kind teacher and a new friend help make Sumi’s day easier.
I’ve found that little ones really respond to Sumi’s story, and feel very protective when others mistreat her. I highly recommend sharing this book with all kids ages 3 and up.
Halmoni and the Picnic by Sook Nyul Choi
Yunmi is so excited for her class picnic at Central Park…but she’s nervous that her grandmother, Halmoni is coming along. Halmoni’s traditional Korean clothes and traditional Korean food are different from what her classmates are used to, and Halmoni doesn’t speak English very well. Yunmi is worried that her classmates will make fun of her grandmother’s unfamiliar ways.
However, what Yunmi finds is that different doesn’t have to be bad. She sees how her Korean grandmother really does fit in to her American world.
I recommend sharing this book with children ages 5 and up.
What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Anne Sibley O’Brien
This picture book explores the celebration of a child’s first birthday, known as the tol. Sara Mee is turning one year old, and at her party there will be gifts, food, and the toljibee, a traditional Korean game that predicts what a child will be when they grow up.
This fun birthday read is great for children ages 4 and up.
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