Picture books about Koreans and Korean Americans are very much needed in our schools, libraries, and homes.
For our family, stories with Korean protagonists give my children a glimpse into their heritage. Other than my husband, my children live far from Korean relatives. Since my kids are currently not able to learn Korean language, exposing them to Korean culture in other ways is extremely important.
Meanwhile, for non-Koreans like myself, these books open our hearts and minds to similar and contrasting experiences from which we can learn, reflect, and grow.
This review features our favorite picture books with realistic Korean characters that we have personally purchased and read. Stories with human protagonists are necessary for representation, diversity, and inclusion.
Most of these stories were created by “own voices” Korean authors and/or illustrators, and we hope to see many new narratives in books and other media. Please also check out these 100 amazing picture books that celebrate Asians and Asian Americans for more relevant and inspiring stories.
What age levels these children’s books with Korean Americans for?
These books about Koreans and Korean Americans are great for kids ranging from preschoolers to elementary school age. For reference, my daughter is currently 7 years old, and my son is 4 years old. However, even as an adult, I have learned so much from reading these stories.
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Picture books about Korean American food
Bibimbap (비빔밥) is my FAVORITE Korean dish, and it’s also one of the very first books we bought after our first child was born. Fun, rhyming text pairs engaging illustrations of a little kid trying to help in the kitchen. The illustrations are so cute and realistic. Highly recommend!
- Author: Linda Sue Park
- Illustrator: Ho Baek Lee
- Publisher: Clarion Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780547076713
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
This comic-style picture book celebrates famous Korean American Chef Roy Choi and his passion for creating delicious Korean food mixed with Mexican inspiration in a down-to-Earth and accessible way. His Kogi BBQ Taco Trucks can be found in the Los Angeles area! The graffiti-style illustrations give a modern twist to typical picture books.
- Author: Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee
- Illustrator: Man One
- Publisher: Readers to Eaters
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780983661597
On our to-read list:
Have a Good Day Cafe
- Author: Frances Park and Ginger Park
- Illustrator: Katherine Potter
- Publisher: Lee and Low Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9781600603587
Picture books about Korean American families
The Paper Kingdom
I absolutely adore this story – probably more than my kids – but it’s such a heartwarming message. A little boy has to stay up at night and accompanies his parents to work. Based on the author’s own story, the boy’s immigrant parents are custodial staff in corporate building. Seeing that the boy is tired and bored, his parents turn the night into adventure through the power of storytelling. They teach him about hard work, responsibility, compassion, and hope. My son was intrigued by the parents’ story about the imaginary dragons!
- Author: Helena Ku Rhee
- Illustrator: Pascal Campion
- Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780525644613
Dear Juno is about a special relationship between a American boy and his grandmother who lives in Korea. They send letters to each other – Korean handwriting and photos from grandma and sweet drawings from Juno. And they understand that they miss each other and long to visit.
- Author: Soyung Pak
- Illustrator: Susan Kathleen Hartung
- Publisher: Puffin Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780142300176
Picture books about Korean American friendships in school
Three of the four books feature Korean American children struggling to fit into school. In the future, I’d like to see picture books with Korean American kids enjoying regular life. While these stories about balancing cultures is important, we also need stories about normal, everyday joy.
The Name Jar
The Name Jar is a story about acceptance and friendship. Unhei recently moved to the United States from Korea, and she’s anxious about fitting in. Instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she decides to have her classmates pick out a new name for her. None of the names seem to fit, and Unhei makes friends who welcome her Korean name.
- Author and Illustrator: Yangsook Choi
- Publisher: Dragonfly Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780440417996
*Note: My Name is Yoon (available on Amazon and Bookshop) has a similar premise. However, the author and illustrators are not Asians. Several Korean parents have raised concerns about the stereotypes and inaccuracies portrayed in this story in the Amazon reviews and also privately to me.
Danbi Leads the School Parade
Danbi is excited but nervous to start school in America. Initially, she has a rough start trying to figure out how to play and dance with the other kids. But with her creative imagination, she makes up her own game, leading her classmates in a fun, colorful, whimsical parade.
- Author and illustrator: Anna Kim
- Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780451478894
隐形男孩 / 隱形男孩 / Invisible Boy / 보이지 않는 아이
A boy named, Brian, feels invisible as he is continuously excluded from lunch, gym, and parties. One day, a new Korean student, Justin, joins the school and is teased for eating bulgogi at lunch. Brian draws a picture and leaves a note for Justin to tell him that he likes his lunch. As Justin makes new friends, he makes sure to include Brian with the group. This is an important story about inclusion and speaking up for peers.
- Where to buy
On our to-read list
- Author: Jane Bahk
- Illustrator: Felicia Hoshino
- Publisher: Lee and Low Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9781620148310
Picture books inspired by North and South Korean History
Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans
Rice from Heaven is hands-down one of our favorite picture books . My daughter and I have a strong passion for history-based picture books, and this story is based on the author Tina Cho and her family’s experience.
A child named Yoori participates in a church mission to launch balloons of rice to from South to North Korea. They don’t know if the rice will actually reach the starving families on the other size of the river, but they want to try to help. Yoori imagines a young girl like her on the other side where the land is bare and brown in contrast to her colorful and modern world. While they prepare the sacks of rice, Yoori stands up to a boy who tries to dimiss their plans; later the boy realizes that he should help, too.
The afterword gives more political and geographical detail about North versus South Korea. Highly recommend this story to be included in school history and social studies curricula.
- Author: Tina Cho
- Illustrator: Keum Jin Song
- Publisher: Little Bee Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9781499806823
When Spring Comes to the DMZ
This bittersweet picture book is about the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), a strip of land between North Korea and South Korea that was created after World War II. Tall barbed-wire fences, weapons, and soldiers form barriers between the 2 countries, but the DMZ in between is filled with animal families who are free to come and go as they please. A grandfather looks longingly at the DMZ, and we feel the hope that someday families on both sides can reunite someday.
- Author and illustrator: Uk-Bae Lee
- Publisher: Plough Publishing House
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780874869729
Set in the 1800s, this history-inspired fictional tale introduces how Koreans in the countryside communicated with the King through mountaintop fires. Fires ablaze on each mountaintop indicated safety, while darkness meant the King would send out his army to fight enemies.
One night, the father hurts his ankle and is unable to light the fire, and his son must take on the responsibility. However, the son is so curious to see the soldiers and has to quell his curiosity to make the right choice.
- Author: Linda Sue Park
- Illustrator: Julie Downing
- Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9780547237695
Korean folktales for kids
This heartwarming, fictional tale is mixed with the history of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship. As a child, Sun-sin was poor and dreamed about sailing around the world with his pet turtle “Gobugi” (거북이). One day, the royal court announces a contest for designing an indestructible battleship, with the prize of traveling with the Korean navy.
Sun-sin works hard through trial-and-error to build the ultimate battleship and becomes inspired by the characteristics of his pet turtle. Read this story with the teacher’s guide provided by Lee and Low’s Books.
- Author: Helena Ku Rhee
- Illustrator: Colleen Kong-Savage
- Publisher: Shen’s Books / Lee and Low’s Books
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9781885008909
This bilingual modern folktale came highly recommended by many Korean parents. A boy, Joon, and his older sister, Noona (누나) go on an adventure to find their missing grandmother, Halmoni (할머니). The children speak English and encounter various Korean speaking animals from traditional Korean fairy tales who teach them about their heritage and culture. Illustrations are very lively and expressive, with a mix of realism and fantasy!
I do wish that the author was consistent with using Korean Hangul instead of switching with romanization, such as with the “scissors, paper, rock” game “gawibawibo” (가위바위보). Our former nanny read this to our kids, and while my daughter was not interested in the story, my son enjoyed it.
- Author and illustrator: Julie Kim
- Publisher: Little Bigfoot
- Where to buy / English ISBN: 9781632170774
Picture books about Korean New Year and other festivals
Children’s books with Korean nursery rhymes and folk songs
Here’s our review of favorite Korean nursery rhymes and folk songs that my kids listened to almost daily in their toddler and preschool years!
Children’s picture books about Korean language
My First Book of Korean words
This is a cute introduction to Korean words by following the English alphabet.
- Author: Kyubyong Park and Henry Amen
- Illustrator: Aya Padron
- Publisher: Tuttle
- Where to buy: 9780804849401
Korean picture dictionaries
Please see our detailed review of 2 fantastic Korean Hangul picture dictionaries here.
What are your favorite books that celebrate Korean heritage and culture?
What other books do you recommend? If you’ve read any of these books, we’d love to hear your thoughts and if you agree or disagree with our review!
More Korean culture and learning resources for kids
- Korean Hangul Alphabet Activities
- Korean Language Activities and Printables
- Korean Gift Guide for Kids: Cultural, Educational, and Fun Toys!