Engage your students with these thematically rich stories and poems by Asian American authors!
We want all of our students to be able to see themselves in stories they read, so we have collected eight poems, fables, folktales, and short stories that celebrate the voices and experiences of Asian American authors. These compelling texts highlight themes of cultural traditions, growing up, and family ties to engage all students.
“The Clever Rabbit” retold by Chitra Soundar (3rd Grade)
In this lighthearted fable, a hungry tiger spots a rabbit in the forest. The terrified rabbit tells the tiger that he would taste much more delicious with rice cakes and tricks the tiger into eating flaming hot pebbles. The rabbit tricks the tiger twice more, and the tiger decides rabbits are quite dangerous creatures!
After reading, have students make text-to-self connections. Ask Discussion Question 1, “What does your body feel like when you’re scared? When is a time you have faced a fear? What can people do to face their fears?”
“Lilu’s Bright Diwali” by Anita Nahta Amin (3rd Grade)
In this short story, Lilu helps her family prepare for Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights and New Year. Her family realizes that they are missing the diyas - clay oil lamps - and Lilu steps in, creating her own. The family enjoys the festival thanks to Lilu’s innovation.
After reading, have students make text-to-self connections. Ask Discussion Question 1, “In the story Lilu wants to help but no one seems to need her. Have you ever felt left out because of your age or another factor? How did being left out make you feel? After reading what Lilu did to feel more included, what ideas do you have for contributing next time you feel like this?”
“Raji’s Race” by Melina Mangal (3rd Grade)
In this touching story, a young girl in India dreams of racing the stars in the night sky. The girl spends an entire night racing with the stars on her scooter in her dream. When she wakes up, she decides that instead of racing the stars, she wants to learn about them.
As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on how Raji feels about star racing. Then, ask students to discuss topics that they love learning about.
“Great Splashes” by Joan Bone (4th Grade)
In this wonderful short story, a young girl and her family prepare to celebrate the festival of Songkran in Thailand. She hopes she is old enough to be the first to pour scented water on her Grandmother’s hands. The author describes the young girl’s experience during the joyous festival in vivid detail.
To build background knowledge before reading or extend students’ thinking after reading, watch the video “Songkran Festival in Thailand” under the Related Media tab. After watching, students can compare the portrayal of the festival in the video and the reading.
“The Swallow and the Pumpkin Seed” retold by Elisa Oh (5th Grade)
In this retelling of a Korean folktale, a sparrow teaches a young man a valuable lesson about greed. Brothers Heung Bu and Nol Bu are working in rice paddies when Heung Bu notices an injured sparrow and nurses it back to health. The sparrow rewards Heung Bu with a pumpkin full of riches. Nol Bu, jealous of his brother’s wealth, captures a sparrow and breaks its leg. The sparrow later returns with a seed that sprouts a pumpkin filled with snakes and wasps.
This story teaches an important lesson about greed and envy. To help students develop their understanding of the theme, assign the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on how Nol Bu’s actions and feelings change throughout the story.
“Basant Birthday” by Maya Kanwal (5th Grade)
In this short story, a determined young girl in Pakistan breaks cultural norms by going kite fighting on her birthday. The narrator’s brother helps her learn how to fly a kite. Then, she is able to knock her brother’s kite out of the sky with her new skills!
Consider assigning CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode to your students while they read this text. The Guiding Questions will help students understand how the narrator persevered to learn an activity usually reserved for boys.
“A Wish for Kali” by Parul Sharma (5th Grade)
In this story, a young girl makes a wish to the Hindu goddess Kali for a doll on her birthday. On the way home from the market, a monkey shreds her mother's money, and the girl wishes for Kali to make her mother happy. On the girl’s birthday, she wakes up to find that her father has returned from war and is carrying a doll, making all of her wishes come true.
Consider pairing this text with “Sumintra Celebrates Divali” by Meena Jagat, which describes how a young girl celebrates the Hindu festival of Divali. Ask students to discuss what they learn about Hinduism in both stories. Have students use evidence from the text to support their thinking.
“Peaches” by Adrienne Su (5th Grade)
In this heartfelt poem, a speaker describes her immigrant family’s experiences with an extended metaphor. The crates of peaches symbolize the speaker’s identity as a child of Chinese immigrant parents.
Throughout the poem, the speaker recognizes the obstacles her parents faced and the sacrifices they made to give the speaker and her siblings a better life. Explore this idea with students by asking Discussion Question 2, “In the poem, the speaker realizes that the way her family buys peaches and stores food shows that they are an immigrant family and different from other American families. Is there anything your family does that makes them different? How does this make you feel?”
Looking for more stories to celebrate Asian American authors and heritage? Browse the Asian and Pacific Islander Authors and Cultures text set on CommonLit and check out the full CommonLit library.
If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program for elementary students, join one of our upcoming webinars!