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During the 2021 Olympics, kids – and yes, some of us adults – jumped up and down around the world cheering on their favorite athletes and thinking, “I’ll be like you when I grow up!”
After all, professional athletes in this country have always been role models for children and inspired them to dream big through hard work, courage and resilience. But for many AAPI kids over the years who were buried under all these daydreams, a nagging little voice also said, “But none of these athletes look like me.”
It is true that there were professional AAPI athletes in the USA as early as 1927 (Kenichi Zenimura and Walter Achiu) and even AAPI Olympians in 1948 (Victoria Manalo Draves and Sammy Lee). Despite the fact that it is one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, the AAPI population is still largely underrepresented in professional sports.
But as more AAPI athletes defy the stereotypes that claim they are unsuitable for modern sport, their stories are told and their faces recognized – which gives AAPI kids an extra boost in motivation. Now, more than ever, these kids can find posters, memorabilia, and books about AAPI athletes to fuel their inspiration.
To celebrate the Olympic year and all AAPI athletes who have competed professionally over the decades, there are 12 books on AAPI athletes for children and adults here.
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Books about AAPI athletes for children and teenagers
Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice by Karen Chen (preface by Kristi Yamaguchi)
In these memoirs, U.S. figure skating champion Karen Chen – a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants – shares her journey from starting figure skating at the age of 5 to overcoming a near-career-ending injury to winning multiple national championship medals as a teenager. The book includes a foreword by Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, as well as photos and behind-the-scenes details from Chen’s life on and off the ice.
Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe
Often considered the father of modern surfing, the native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku was also a six-time Olympic medalist during his 20-year Olympic career. This is the story of Kahanamoku’s journey as a competitive swimmer and passionate surfer who introduced surfing to Australia and mainland America. Despite his financial troubles and encounters with racism, Kahanamoku was known for his humility and sportsmanship throughout his life.
For the slightly older set, Crowe wrote this chapter on Kahanamoku: The Story of Olympic Swimmer Duke Kahanamoku
Michelle Kwan: A Champion’s Heart by Michelle Kwan
Written in her own words as a teenager, this is the story of Michelle Kwan, Olympic, national and world figure skating champion and daughter of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong. Not only does Kwan reveal the personal sacrifices she and her family have made to pursue high-level training early in their careers, but he shares what it feels like before, during, and after competitions. The book contains a 16-page insert with full color photos and a glossary of skating terminology.
Baseball saved us from Ken Mochizuki
Based on his own life experiences, Mochizuki’s picture book sheds light on both the sport of baseball and Japanese American internment camps during World War II. The protagonist Shorty and his family – along with thousands of other Japanese Americans – were relocated to a camp in the middle of the hot, dusty desert without looking forward to it anymore. Shorty’s father solves the problem by building a baseball field inside the barbed wire fences and watchtowers. Soon, Shorty and other campers become involved in the games and begin to understand how a sport not only provides opportunities for distraction and victory, but most importantly, provides a way to gain dignity and self-respect.
Women in Sports: Chloe Kim from Mary Hertz Scarbrough
Chloe Kim, whose parents are from South Korea, is the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboard gold medal. In addition to Chloe’s commitment, this book features colored images, a glossary of terms, and reading and teaching tips.
Check out more books on Chloe Kim:
Pro Sports Biographies: Chloe Kim by Elizabeth Raum
Chloe Kim (My Early Library: My Itty-Bitty Bio) by Meeg Pincus and Jeff Bane
Who is Chloe Kim? by Stefanie Loh (available for pre-order)
The story of Olympic diver Sammy Lee by Paula Yoo and Dom Lee
Sammy Lee, a Korean-American diver, was the first AAPI athlete to win an Olympic gold medal – and this biography tells of his journey. Lee’s challenges started early. At the age of 12, like all colored people in 1932, he was only allowed to use the public swimming pool once a week. Still, he found a way to continue practicing, but was soon torn between his own dream of becoming an Olympian and his father’s hopes of becoming a doctor. This book tells the story of how Sammy Lee achieved both, and includes illustrations, a glossary, recommended reading, and more.
Check out Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, also written by Paula Yoo.
Always dream of Kristi Yamaguchi
“Always dreaming” is the trademark of Kristi Yamaguchi, the legendary Olympic champion, US champion and two-time world champion in figure skating. Yamaguchi, a third generation Japanese American, writes about how she relied on her determination and love of the sport to overcome obstacles and tragedies during her successful skating career.
Changing the Game: Asian-Pacific American Athletes by Mia Wenjen
This anthology features the stories of 17 AAPI female athletes including Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Julie Chu (hockey), Natasha Kai-Marks (soccer), and other exceptional athletes from a variety of sports. Every woman has overcome her own set of barriers to compete at the highest level.
Adult books about AAPI athletes
Hold your serve: hold out on and off Michael Chang’s seat with Mike Yorkey
In these memoirs, Korean-American tennis pro Michael Chang shares his life’s journey – on and off the court. Chang writes about how his parents, although lacking in resources, supported his and his brother’s development in tennis. In addition to describing his training, his competitions and his interactions and friendships with other tennis greats – including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe – he also reflects on how his discipline, his beliefs and his value system have affected his athletic career.
Jeremy Lin: The reason for Timothy Dalrymple’s lineage
Shortly after the NBA’s first American-born Taiwanese player, Jeremy Lin, became a star during his success as the Knicks’ starting XI, this biography reveals the story behind the player. The book examines how Lin’s beliefs, family, education, and cultural heritage influenced his success, and also includes interviews with basketball experts, AAPI thought leaders, and pastors.
A Journey: The Autobiography of Apolo Anton Ohno by Apolo Anton Ohno with Nancy Ann Richardson
“Why do I do this?” This is the question, writes Olympic speed skating champion Apolo Ohno in his memoir, he asked himself again and again. The answer was always that he loved to skate. This passion helped Ohno – the son of a father born in Japan – overcome uncertainty, loneliness and his relentless inner critic and rise to incredible success as an athlete. In this book, Ohno describes how he had to learn to face his fiercest competitor – himself – in order to become a true champion.
Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion by Jennifer Mario
This biography of Korean-American golf phenomenon Michelle Wie was published shortly after she became the youngest female golfer to turn pro. It reveals the story behind her rise, including how she became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA tournament, compete in PGA Tour events, and win the US Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. In addition to details from Wies’s life, the author, an experienced golf author, provides interesting information about the sport itself.
All of the athletes featured in these books help pave the way for the next generation of AAPI children, whether they are aspiring athletes or are simply motivated by examples of hard work and resilience. But the stories of these athletes are meant to inspire us all not only to do our best and dream big, but also to celebrate, encourage, and support various heroes and voices in American sports and athletics.
Do you feel inspired? Find more recommended books on athletes and features on AAPI writers and characters.