From the youngest readers to the ones who read to them, this gift guide has books for every age group. Mochi staff Dorilyn, Giannina, Melody, Tria, and Yvonne scoured their shelves for the best books from the recent past across all genres — from picture books to poetry, fantasy to nonfiction — so the readers in your lives can open presents that delight and hopefully speak to them.
Picture Books and Books for Younger Grades
“Drawn Together” by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: June 5, 2018)
“Drawn Together” is a deeply personal book for Vietnamese American author Minh Lê and Thai American illustrator Dan Santat, pulling from experiences with their own grandparents. The story captures the relationship between an eager grandfather and his apathetic young grandson, who don’t speak the same language — a common scenario among immigrant families. The discomfort from the cultural and language barriers is palpable. The sparse dialogue reflects the disconnection, though the two are more aligned than they realize. The story and the relationship shift when the boy pulls out a sketchbook. From there, the two compare their distinct drawing styles and collaborate to create an exuberant and visually vibrant world that transcends language, culture, and time. Even if that world lives only on paper, they have established a bond to build upon during future visits.
In a PBS video, Lê described how this book encompasses the depth of love and emotion, as well as the struggles, that come with these relationships. This book is perfect for young artists (or even their grandparents!) who understand that tension, reminding them that love isn’t demonstrated only through words. — Melody Ip
“Gibberish” by Young Vo (Levine Querido: March 1, 2022)
“Gibberish” is a whimsical look into being the new kid when you don’t “speak a lick of English.” Author and illustrator Young Vo uses emoji symbols to show the gibberish that Dat hears when people around him speak. His world appears in black and white until a friendly interaction breaks the language barrier, showing that communication happens in many different ways — in speech, text, symbols, gestures, and facial expressions — all driven by a desire to connect with and know one another. A treat for anyone who has ever been an English learner at some point. — Yvonne Su
“I’ll Get to the Bottom of This!” by Daniel Kwan (A24: Nov. 29, 2022)
If you are a parent to a young child and enjoyed the film “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” A24’s highest-grossing film, you’ll want to check out A24’s latest collaboration with director Daniel Kwan. It takes place not on screen, but on the page, in the form of children’s books. “I’ll Get to the Bottom of This!” follows a disastrous traffic accident that causes a detective to become obsessed with assigning blame. The all-canine (and all-adorable) cast is illustrated delightfully by Sean Lewis. While the opening pages may bring to mind a setting similar to Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” since it’s a story written by Daniel Kwan, the narrative dives deeper into strange territory, both inwards to the literal interior of one character and outwards to the expansive origins of the universe. We also love “24 Minutes to Bedtime!,” also written by Kwan and illustrated by Felicia Chiao. You may want to pause for a moment of existential contemplation as your little one drifts off to sleep. — Tria Wen
If you like picture books, also check out: “Amah Faraway” by Margaret Chiu Greanias, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (2022); “Eyes that Speak to the Stars” by Joanna Ho (2022); and “Hundred Years of Happiness” by Thanhhà Lai, illustrated by Nguyên Quang and Kim Liên (2022).
Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Jasmine Toguchi is a spunky 8-year-old Japanese American girl with an adventurous and mischievous spirit. These stories aren’t necessarily about being Japanese American; rather, they incorporate Jasmine’s ethnic identity and culture into the storyline. She brings Japanese dishes to school for lunch, learns taiko for a talent show, and celebrates the Japanese Girls’ Day, or Hinamatsuri. Japanese American readers will delight in seeing themselves in this series, with more broadly relatable themes, like sibling rivalry, gender barriers, and family relationships.
With five books in this series — and three more to come in 2023, all of which are set in Japan — the Jasmine Toguchi series will be at the top of young readers’ wish lists for a while. — M.I.
If you like middle-grade stories, especially about ordinary girl protagonists doing extraordinary things, also check out “Measuring Up” by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu (2020); “Finding Junie Kim” by Ellen Oh (2020); and “Stand Up, Yumi Chung!” by Jessica Kim (2020).
“Picture Us in the Light” by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Hyperion: April 10, 2018)
What separates great Asian American stories from a story with simply an Asian American cast, is that great stories have dimensions, flaws, and pasts and futures that are fully uncertain and worth exploring. Kelly Loy Gilbert crafts a story about teens in the Bay Area on the cusp of becoming adults, but they are only beginning to see that their closest ties are not what they thought they were. We see Danny negotiate his ties with his best friend Harry and their high school friends in the aftermath of a suicide. We follow him as he uncovers secrets about his parents and the choices they made. This novel is a realistic snapshot of life in an Asian American community and the ordinary people whose stories so deserve to be told. — Y.S.
“The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen (Random House Graphics: Oct. 13, 2020)
In this beautiful graphic novel, Trung Le Nguyen weaves together fairy tales with a tender parent-child story. The language and cultural barriers between Tien and his parents initially seem too wide to cross — how could he possibly tell them that he is gay? Through Tien’s dialogue with his parents and how he becomes deeply immersed in the fairy tales he reads and hears for the first time, Nguyen captures the uneasy desire to have your parents accept a key part of who you are, even while anticipating rejection. Tien finds solace in the way Tam, a Vietnamese Cinderella, takes fate back into her own hands. He is fascinated by stories of his mother Helen’s family, as well as those of European princesses. The highlight comes at the end, when Tam finally feels seen by his mother. Fans of graphic novels, fairy tales, and immigrant stories will love “The Magic Fish.” — Y.S.
Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction
“Cursed Bunny: Stories” by Bora Chung (Algonquin Books: Dec. 6, 2022)
Korean author Bora Chung makes a splashy debut in the English translations genre with “Cursed Bunny: Stories,” a collection of 10 short stories. By “splashy,” I mean that literally, with the first story, titled “The Head,” about a monster that grows in a woman’s toilet, using the woman’s waste products to form itself. While that narrative and the second from the book feel like social commentary on a woman’s place in a patriarchal and patronizing world, the title story and those that follow are where Chung really shines.
Chung is brilliant at creating folklorish tales where monsters and humans converge. “Cursed Bunny” recounts the fate of a family whose trade is making cursed fetishes, and the aftermath of one such curse. “Snare” tells the legend of a man who comes upon a wounded fox that bleeds gold. “Scars” depicts the story of a boy who grows up in a cave, imprisoned by a monster that sucks at his spinal fluid and the boy’s eventual escape as a young man. The stories are at once enthralling and horrific reads, but not all the narratives fall into this mythic category: another is set in a cyberpunk-feeling future, about a person trying to preserve the memory of their first robot. For readers who like a bit of a scare and don’t shy away from unhappy endings, “Cursed Bunny” is the perfect collection of tales. — Giannina Ong
If you like short stories, also check out “Skinship” by Yoon Choi (2021).
“Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family” by Rabia Chaudry (Algonquin Books: Nov. 8, 2022)
Do you live to eat or eat to live? For those who fall into the former group, “Fatty Fatty Boom Boom” is a perfect pairing. Following the life of attorney Rabia Chaudry, the memoir traces Chaudry’s life and love for food back to the marriage of her parents in Lahore, Pakistan, to nearly the present day. Chaudry is the friend of Adnan Syed, the subject of the record-breaking true-crime podcast “Serial.” After the success of “Serial,” Chaudry went on to write a bestselling book “Adnan’s Story” that argues that Syed was wrongfully convicted of the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, which was made into an HBO special in 2017. Over the course of telling her life’s story, Chaudry gives readers a feast for the mind and also provides recipes at the end of the book for those hungering to try a taste of her culture.
Food is centered in all aspects of Chaudry’s life, in ways that are beautiful and questionable — the image that is forever seared in my mind is of her mother giving her sticks of butter to soothe her gums as a teething toddler. Her love for food bounds off the page in the sensuous descriptions of not only Pakistani food but also American fast food that the Chaudrys were exposed to when they immigrated to the United States. As the memoir continues (to be honest, it is more of a biography than a memoir), we see Chaudry’s struggle with the realization that her love for food has become an uncontrollable obsession, something that may be apparent to readers who have struggled with being fat will instantly recognize. The book will have you salivating page after page, but what truly marinates is a new understanding of what it means to be part of a Pakistani family. — G.O.
“How High We Go In the Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu (William Morrow: Jan. 18, 2022)
Before diving into Sequoia Nagamatsu’s “How High We Go In the Dark,” I was hesitant to read a novel set during a global pandemic. As we are currently living through seemingly endless waves of COVID-19 iterations, I’ve turned to escapism to wash out the constant yet now monotonous drone of a pandemic life. However, once I finally gave “How High We Go In the Dark” a go, I was pleasantly surprised by the lightness that Nagamatsu infuses throughout his melancholy vignettes on sickness and death.
A decade in the making, Nagamatsu’s debut novel is an exercise in appreciating one’s passing. Set only a few years in the future, the book presents the reader with the simple stories of people who survived and how they grieve. These snapshots of human life gently imprint on one another, with characters from one story appearing in another, a reminder of the interconnectedness of life on Earth. In one sketch, parents bring their ill children to a theme park for their final moments together. In another, a man desperately tries to preserve the ability of a robot dog that is encoded with memories from his dead wife. Readers will enjoy the pacing of the novel but might find the tone a bit monotonous as, although the perspectives shift in each chapter, the tone of the narration remains quite unchanged. — G.O.
“Honor” by Thrity Umrigar (Algonquin Books: Jan. 4, 2022)
Thrity Umrigar’s “Honor” is not for the faint of heart. Although described as parallel love stories, the two romances are more of a palate cleanser — than the central theme of the novel. “Honor” follows Smita, an Indian American journalist, covering a story in her motherland about a woman suing her brothers over the murder of her husband. The brothers claim that the killing was done out of honor. Having experienced violence and witnessing it as part of her job as a reporter, Smita herself understands how religious and cultural “honor” can get in the way of breaking bias and undoing discrimination. Umgar neatly puts the events in perspective through Smita’s worldview as the gender-issues journalist, noting that this issue of gender-based violence is not just a problem for places like India but an occurrence that rears itself all over the world.
The novel is best suited for readers who enjoy a path to justice and want to build an understanding of what leads to violence on this scale — not the large stage, but the intimate and familial level of harm. But be warned, Umrigar’s realistic writing and narrative will forever sear certain images into one’s mind. — G.O.
“Arsenic and Adobo” by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley: May 4, 2021)
For the mystery lover, Arsenic and Adobo (2021) by Mia P. Manansala is a lighthearted thriller with a diverse cast, murder, and an unfolding love triangle. When 25-year-old Lila returns to her hometown to help her family’s food business, her food critic ex-boyfriend suddenly drops dead while dining at their restaurant. Lila becomes the main suspect, prompting herself and her family to prove her innocence. Despite the murder-mystery plot at the center of the story, the heart resides within the relationships, tsismis, and, of course, Filipino cuisine. By the end of the novel, readers will crave the rest of the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series. The third and most recent release, “Blackmail and Bibingka,” (2022) takes place over the winter holidays for ultimate cozy vibes. — Dorilyn Toledo
“My Education” by Susan Choi (Penguin Books: May 27, 2014)
For the academic, check out Susan Choi’s “My Education.” Make this a gift set because readers will need a highlighter, writing utensils, and sticky notes to annotate all the brilliantly written lines in the literary novel. It follows mixed-race graduate student Regina as she gets involved in her professor’s life, specifically, his wife. Provocative in content and form, the 2013 Winner of Lambda Literary’s Bisexual Fiction Award challenges the romanticized yearning of young love, looking at the tortured, insecure, and obsessive aspects of the formative years. — D.T.
If you like novels, also check out “Disorientation” by Elaine Hsieh Chou (2022).
“Sea of Strangers” by Lang Leav (Andrews McMeel Publishing: Jan. 9, 2018)
Those looking to get more into poetry should seek Lang Leav’s “Sea of Strangers.” The collection incorporates prose for a smooth transition into the specially crafted world of poetry. Following the tumultuous, cyclical, and yet, ultimately peaceful nature of the ocean, Leav writes about an aching life in pursuit of love and passion. It makes the perfect gift for the creative who’s questioning their productivity or for a beloved who’s feeling a little lost. They’ll know they aren’t alone. — D.T.
If you like poetry, also check out “Focal Point” by Jenny Qi (2021).
Cover credit: Patrick Pahlke/Unsplash
Last modified: January 2, 2023