A selection of books and films by AAPI authors or with AAPI actors

Recommended Reads

16 books & movies to read and watch for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month


May 02, 2024

I just finished reading a fantastic new book and I can’t stop talking about it. Written by Sri Lankan-American author Ryan Chapman, The Audacity is a satire about uber-rich, slimy CEOs, and clueless intellectuals. I laughed out loud many times (thank goodness I read it at home). May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI) Heritage Month, so if you’re looking for more great book recommendations by AAPI authors or must-watch films starring AAPI actors, check out these stories that celebrate the talents of this vibrant community.

Borrow them on the Libby reading app or Kanopy, the streaming video service from your library.


🎥 Piccadilly starring Anna May Wong

The first Asian-American actress to make it big in Hollywood, Anna May Wong thrilled audiences beginning with silent films when she was still a teenager. Piccadilly sees her at her most glamorous as a scullery maid who becomes the toast of London when a club owner hires her as a dancer to save his struggling establishment. Long thought lost, this movie has been rediscovered, restored, and features a charming soundtrack. It’s easy to see why Wong was the toast of Hollywood in real life.

Not Your China Doll📚 Not Your China Doll by Katie Gee Salisbury
🎧 Narrated by Caroline McLaughlin

There’s something of a Wong resurgence happening at the moment. Last year saw a biography by Yunte Huang, Daughter of the Dragon, and the novel The Brightest Star by Gail Tsukiyama. And the love for this old Hollywood actress continues this year with her biography. Salisbury’s book covers Wong’s start, which sounds a lot like the plot of Piccadilly, when she was discovered in her family’s laundry. From there, it was Hollywood, Paris, London, and more, and as her fame grew, she used her power to begin breaking down Asian stereotypes in the movies.


🎥 Monsoon starring Henry Golding, David Tran & Molly Harris

Henry Golding, star of such films as Crazy Rich Asians, portrays Kit, a man who travels home to Vietnam, in this quiet film. He hasn’t been in the country since his family fled the war with America when he was just six. Now he connects with an estranged cousin and is introduced to Lewis, an American fashion designer. Love is kindled on Kit’s search for self on his journey around the country.

The Emperor and the Endless Palace📚 The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang
🎧 Narrated by Dylan J. Locke

You’d never guess that this super-sexy reincarnation romance was written by the same man who penned multiple Kung Fu Panda movies, but it is! In this novel, the same men meet and fall in love in three time periods — the 1st century BCE, the 18th century, and the modern day. Each time they try to avoid the pitfalls that eventually tear them apart, but for millennia, they've failed. Is the 21st century finally their era? You’ll have to read this spicy and elegantly written novel to find out!


🎥 Columbus starring John Cho

Starring John Cho, Columbus dazzled the indie film world in 2017 from the Sundance Film Festival to the Independent Spirit Awards, where it racked up three nominations. The story is set in Columbus, Indiana where Jin’s father, a noted scholar, is speaking about architecture. When he suddenly collapses, Jin, a translator living on the other side of the world, hurries to this small Midwest town to be with him, and there he meets Casey, a young woman aching for something more.

What We Kept to Ourselves📚 What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
🎧 Narrated by Jennifer Kim

Like the movie Columbus, this book is a Korean family drama. Set in dual timelines: 1999 and 1977, this thriller seeks to unravel the mystery of Sunny’s disappearance in the late 90s. She and her husband immigrated from South Korea in 1977 as newlyweds, hoping for a better life in California. But a chance meeting at a bus stop in 1982 may have changed everything and be the key to explaining why Sunny has vanished. Oh, and also why a dead body has turned up in the family’s backyard.

Asian Americans

🎥 Asian Americans featuring Sandra Oh and Daniel Dae Kim

PBS dives into the history of Asian Americans in this five-hour documentary series. They begin with American expansion into The Philippines in early 20th century, then work back into the earlier history of Chinese immigration before moving through WWII and up to the current day. The series covers famous figures, court battles, and the ever-evolving understanding of this diverse group of people who are so vital to America.

The Encanto's Daughter📚 The Encanto’s Daughter by Melissa de la Cruz
🎧 Narrated by Leiana Bertrand

Inspired by the mythology of the author’s Filipino heritage, de la Cruz’s latest YA romantasy features a young woman trying to claim her throne. Just one problem she faces along the way is that she’s living in the human world, where she’s forced to hide that she's half-encanto. But upon the death of her father, she must travel to Biringan and convince the dangerous council to support a half-human monarch. Will the mysterious Sir Lucas, who now has her heart, also be able to help her hold her throne? This is the first in the series, so the verdict might still be out on that!

Proof of Loyalty

🎥 Proof of Loyalty

This award-winning documentary tells the little-known story of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii at the outbreak of WWII who played a vital role in America’s military strategy. Many of these men formed the 100th Infantry Battalion, and their knowledge of Japanese language and culture became pivotal to winning the war in the Pacific. One soldier, Kazuo Yamane, would even go on to do clandestine work and serve under Gen. Eisenhower, where his efforts would eventually help to shorten the war.

Facing the Mountain📚 Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown
🎧 Narrated by Louis Ozawa

Facing the Mountain is just one recent book to delve into the contributions of the remarkable Japanese-American soldiers. (Another you might want to check out is Bridge to the Sun by Bruce Henderson.) This award-winning book focuses on three Japanese-American men who volunteered for the army and served in Europe while their families were forced into internment camps in America. This story is interwoven with that of Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought for the rights of Japanese Americans during the war. It’s also worth noting that this powerful book is available in a young readers edition, as well.

To Be Takei

🎥 To Be Takei featuring George Takei

The world first came to know George Takei thanks to his role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, but he’s become so much more than just a groundbreaking actor with one of the most distinctive voices on the planet. This documentary looks at the star’s full life, from his family’s time in an internment camp during WWII to his career in Hollywood and onto his advocacy for racial equality and LGBTQ rights. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about this dynamic star and more!

They Call Us Enemy📚 They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Takei went more in-depth in his family’s experience in internment camps during WWII in this bestselling graphic novel memoir. At only four-years old, the country where he was born, America, went to war with the country of his father’s birth, Japan. Not long after the declaration of war, came another declaration from President Franklin Roosevelt — Japanese Americans must go to “relocation centers.” This astonishingly drawn graphic novel movingly depicts the future star’s early life.

Painted Nails

🎥 Painted Nails starring Van Nguyen and Triet Dang

Van Hoang was living the American dream. A Vietnamese immigrant, she and her husband owned a nail salon, but then she unwittingly became an activist for safe cosmetics. This documentary tells her story of illness caused by the chemicals she used in her work, and how she then advocated for safety measures in the beauty industry, including her tearful and impassioned testimony to Congress. This is a moving look at what can be accomplished, even against the multi-billion-dollar cosmetics industry.

The Manicurist's Daughter📚 The Manicurist’s Daughter by Susan Lieu
🎧 Narrated by the author

Another devastating look at the beauty industry comes in this debut memoir. Lieu and her family came to America as refugees from the Vietnam War, settling in California, where her mother opened two successful nail salons. All was going well for the family until Lieu’s mother died during a botched tummy tuck. Her mother’s sudden death left Lieu with questions about why her mother had ever felt the need for cosmetic surgery, what the doctor had done wrong, and why ideas of beauty could lead to something so tragic.

Meet the Patels

🎥 Meet the Patels starring Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, and Champa V. Patel

With a mix of documentary footage and animation, Meet the Patels looks at romance in the modern world for people from traditional Indian families. Ravi Patel is 30 and just broke up with his first love, Audrey, who his parents never knew about. They take him and his sister Geeta (who helps shoot the documentary) to India to find them spouses via traditional Indian matchmaking. Will Ravi find the perfect woman? Is the perfect woman back in America? Watch this hilarious film to find out!

Say You'll Be Mine📚 Say You’ll Be Mine by Naina Kumar
🎧 Narrated by Soneela Nankani

Another twist on arranged Indian marriages is this debut romance about Meghna, in love with her best friend, who’s just asked her to be his best man in a wedding to another woman. In her distress, Meghna agrees to let her parents introduce her to a possible husband. Enter Karthik, grumpy to Meghna’s sunshine. He’s just going along with meeting Meghna to make his mother happy, but soon the two are fake dating, and we all know feelings are bound to follow that!

*Access to books and films may vary by library & region.

Download the Kanopy and Libby apps to start watching and reading these recommendations this month and throughout the year.

New to Kanopy? Learn how to get started.

RELATED READ: 15 books to celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month


About the Author

Shelia Mawdsley did everything from answering questions at the Reference Desk to tech training to running a classic lit book club in her 17 years in public libraries. Now she helps other public libraries make the most of their OverDrive collections. In her spare time, she’s either writing or reading, usually with an opera playing in the background. If you ever run into her, ask Shelia about #WITMonth.


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