Historical Fiction

MG Stories Set in East Asia

China, Korea, and Japan have their histories. There’s China with its Cultural Revolution that killed millions. Japan and its power grab of Korea, then Pearl Harbor. Perhaps most disturbing is the inhumanity in North Korea that continues as this is written. These books will give you a better understanding of the modern conflicts that have plagued the far east.


In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Mia and Simon’s father is a humanitarian aid worker who decides to bring his kids along to North Korea. While on a tour, Mia is given a present and told not to open it under she gets home. Curiosity gets the better of her. The “gift” is a phone with horrible photos of people being treated cruelly. After her father is arrested, she and Simon know they can’t get caught with the phone so they escape north to China. Great fugitive/survival story. 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Carefully hidden behind a stand of trees, the orphan, Tree-ear, watches Potter Min create his celadon masterpieces. When he begins working for Min to repay a debt, his dreams take on new possibilities. Then one day he is given a task that will change his life forever. In this story of determination and compassion we see how lives are affected by the choices we make.

When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

From 1910 to 1945 Japan occupied Korea and forced the Koreans to learn Japanese and choose a Japanese name. Sun-hee’s (Keoko) family complies with Japanese orders outwardly while honoring their Korean culture on the inside, but must deal with reduced food, roll calls, house searches, military education at school, and forceful taking of possessions.


Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Based on the true story of a girl who contracts cancer from atomic bomb radiation. Japanese lore says that if you make 1,000 paper cranes, you will get well. Sadako does not reach 1,000. Excellent, short book everyone will love.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Yuriko lives in Hiroshima with her father, aunt and cousin during World War II. The war is mostly in the background for Yuriko. A neighbor’s son gets killed on the front lines, her aunt’s new journalist husband reports from the island battles, and her best friend is called to work in an airplane factory. Then the bomb hits.


Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

While Tash and Sam are walking home from school, they witness a man setting himself on fire. A few days later, Chinese soldiers are canvassing the neighborhood, when Tash’s father gives her an important letter and sends her away to hide. Her parents are arrested. She and Sam take two yaks and decide to cross the Himalayan mountains into India to seek help from the Dalai Lama. 

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Xing Xing, the daughter of a deceased potter, lives as a servant to her stepmother and half-sister. Each day she attends to her sister’s needs, who must endure the pain of foot binding to secure a husband. Xing Xing with her unbound, large feet, entertains no hope of ever finding a husband until the day she sneaks off to the festival. Creative retelling of the Cinderella story.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

A Chinese folktale. Minli lives in a village at the base of Fruitless Mountain. She and her parents work all day in the fields, but their fortune never changes. When a goldfish peddler comes to her door promising good fortune, Minli gives up one of her precious coins in exchange for the goldfish and its wisdom.

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen (Verse novel)

Under China’s “one-child” rule, disabled children are usually abandoned. Kara is one such child. Born with a deformed hand, she is abandoned, and rescued by an American woman. Knowing she is too old to adopt the baby, she decides to remain in China to raise her. When she is caught, Kara is sent to an orphanage awaiting adoption by a new American family. Written in verse.

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