This week, the focus is on Chinese Americans. I read the books American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep, The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy, and The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop.
American Born Chinese (grades 7-12) is a brilliant semi-autobiographical graphic novel about Yang’s adjustment to a new school, yet how he feels like an outcast for being Chinese American. The story actually plays out in three ways--one being about the Monkey King and his goal to become more human, Jin Wang’s story about adjusting to a new school, and Danny’s story about his cousin, Chin-Kee, who embodies all Chinese stereotypes. All these stories intertwine in the end and the reader feels more enlightened for that very reason.
Dragon’s Gate (grades 7-9) is a great historical fiction novel about the Chinese immigrants who come to the United States to help build the railroad. The protagonist, Otter, is a young teen from a wealthy family, who ends up traveling to the U.S. (after he’s landed in some trouble back home) to meet up with his father and uncle who have been working on the railroad for 12 years now. Yep does a fantastic job describing the harsh conditions faced in the Sierras, along with life in the Chinese sector of the railroad camps. Otter has one of the best coming of age stories I have read in a long time.
The Seven Chinese Brothers and The Five Chinese Brothers (grades K-3) would be excellent to teach together. Comparing the stories will reveal the stereotypes in The Five Chinese Brothers and make one wonder which story is closer to the actual tale, since according to The Seven Chinese Brothers it is a Han tale.
Bishop, C. H. (1938). The Five Chinese brothers. New York, NY: Putnam & Groset.
Mahy, M. (1990). The Seven Chinese brothers. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Yang, G. (2006). American born Chinese. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Yep, L. (1993). Dragon's gate. New York, NY: HarperCollins.