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Multicultural Literature For Children and Young Adults

Asian American Literature

Wong, Janet S. This Next New Year. 2000.New York: Frances Foster Books. ISBN 0374355037.

This Next New Year- is a story about a young Chinese Korean boy preparing for the Lunar New Year. Wong has written a picture book the shares with the reader the Chinese New Year that is celebrated late January or early February. She stress in the beginning of the book this holiday is not restricted to people of Chinese heritage. The boy's best friend Glen is of German and French heritage his family celebrates the Chinese New Year by ordering Thai food. His other friend Evelyn who is Hopi and Mexican says it is her favorite holiday because she likes the red envelops with money she gets from her neighbor from Singapore. After learning how his friends celebrate the Chinese New Year the reader learns how his family prepares for the holiday. Just like Wong did as a child he helps his mother clean the house making room for good luck. The lyrical couplets give the boy a voice of determination and optimism for the New Year. "Mother is sweeping last year's dust into pile so big all I can figure is no wonder we've had so much trouble lately." The boy helps his mother clean the house then he begins to clean his room. He cleans his closet making room for all the good luck the New Year will bring. After he finishes cleaning his room he takes a bath washing and drying his hair "extra dry so it can soak up good luck, so and luck can drip into my brain." He then cleans and cuts his nails, flosses his teeth and puts on the cleanest new clothes he has.

Wong tells the story of a Chinese/Korean family's preparation for the Lunar New Year. In her author's notes she explains to the reader why the Lunar New Year is not celebrated on January 1. She also writes about family traditions that she did not understand while she was growing up explains one of her family tradition she did not understand as a child her grandparents always had tangerines on the TV. The Tangerines meant this house was lucky. In addition to many cultural traditions discussed in the author's notes the text and illustration contain many cultural marker. The strongest image provided in Yangsook Choi illustrations is the picture of the family seated at dinner. They are seated at a low round table sitting on floor pillows. The table is set with many traditional foods duk gook soup, bowls of white rice and fish. The family is eating with chopsticks. Behind the family on the wall is a red banner with Chinese characters. The skin tone of the children in the story is a variety of browns. The hair of the Chinese character is not all long straight or in a tight bun at the nape of the neck or slant eyes.

Say, Allen. The Bicycle Man. 1982. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395322545.

The Bicycle Man is a childhood story written by Allen Say. He shares with the reader about the day two American Soldiers appeared at the gate of his school in the mountains of Yokohama, Japan. It is Spring and it is Sportsday at Says village school today children will compete in races in hopes of winning one of the principal awards. Say and his classmates are grouped around Mrs. Morita their first grade teacher. She tells the class they are part of the red team and to turn their headbands from the white side to the red. Before the races can begin the children have to clean the playground. Half of the class sweeps the playground while the others tie colored flags and streamers to bamboo poles. As the children are preparing the playground for the games parents arrive carrying lunch boxes and kettles filled with tea. They spread their straw mat on the ground sitting around the oval track. At nine o'clock Mrs. Morita rings the bell signaling the beginning of the day. The principal welcomes everyone to Sport day stressing having fun over wining. After each race the winner is called to the principal's table where he or she is awarded a white box with tied with a gold thread. Inside, are oranges, rice cakes and pencils. The sixth graders are the last group to race before lunchtime. Families sit together on their straw mats unpacking the layers of their lacquered boxed that hold pickled melon rinds and egg rolls, spiced rice, fish cakes and fruits. After lunch it was time for teachers and parents to race. The children loved watching the adults' race. The last event is almost over. The playground suddenly becomes quiet, as two strangers, American soldiers, appear at the gate. The children have never seen American soldiers and are at first afraid and shy, until the two wave and smile. Then one soldier begins to ride the principal's bicycle. At first the children giggle, but then the tall stranger performs amazing feats, each one more daring and magnificent than the one before.

Allen Say's charming story about the personal interaction between a pair of American Soldiers and a group of children whose paths passed briefly but impacted all their lives. Through his pen drawing Say shares with the reader his small mountain school from which he could see the village and harbor below. Through his text and illustration he shares his Japanese culture with the reader. Many of the children are wearing white shirts with darks shorts, or printed overalls. The reader learns that it is the students responsibility to keep the school and school grounds clean. The families sit down to a traditional Japanese lunch packed in lacquered boxes holding foods like picked melon rinds and spiced rice. It is not until the soldiers arrive that the reader is aware there is no difference in skin tone or hair color of the Japanese people. One of the soldiers is African American one of the students says, "Look how Black he is!"the other soldier is white with red hair another students says, "Look at the red hair!

This is a wonderful picture book that introduces the reader to Japanese's culture.

Yep, Laurence. Dragon's Gate (Golden Mountain Chronicles 1867). 1993. New York: Harper Trophy. ISBN 0064404897.

Dragon's Gate (Golden Mountain Chronicles 1867) is a historical novel about the construction of the transcontinental railroad at the time of the American Civil War. It is a story of one Chinese boys struggle for survival against overwhelming odds. Otter is from the Middle Kingdom (China) is forced to join his father, Squeaky, and his Uncle Foxfire in America the Land of the Golden Mountain. Back in China his father and uncle are heroes to the village people, but Otter soon learns the truth that they are no better that the rest of the Chinese laborers working on the huge task of completing the transcontinental railroad. Otter is not used to physical labor, the other men on his team do not respect him. In his own time of need his uncle turns his back on him. The headman of the project is a man name Kilroy. Kilroy pushes the Chinese workers to exhaustion and gives them an inadequate amount of supplies to live on. When Otters father is blinded by and accident on the job, Otter forces himself to work harder and help more. After awhile he begins to make more friends, he earns respect from his fellow workers and also adjusts to the backbreaking work that he and the other workers have to do. In the end, Otter and his uncle take on a mission that will determine that fate of the entire camp and change Otter's life forever in a way the otter will never forget.

Yep has created a historical work that clearly details the culture of the past whether it is the culture of Manchu-ruled Chinas, America during the Civil War. Otter and other Chinese workers struggle to survive racial prejudice, cold, starvation, and the foreman's whip. The men were responsible for cooking their own food dried fish and duck that was provided by the railroad then subtracted from their monthly wages. It was stress through out the novel the importance of tea to the men. They believed that the tea protected then from sickness. When the Chinese speak among themselves there is no dialect the sentences are clear and complete. Only when they speak English to non-Chinese it reads a broken English.

This is a great historical-adventure novel.

Na, An. A Step From Heaven. 2001. Asheville: Front Street. ISBN 1886910588

A Step From Heaven received the Prints award in 2002 for young adult literature. The story is told through the eyes of Young Ju who emigrates with her family from Korea when she is four. The day before she leave Korea for Mi Gook (America) her mother take Young Ju to have curls put in her hair like all the pretty girls in America. Young Ju doesn't want curly hair she like her straight hair, "I like my straight hair. I do not want to me a Mi Gook girl." When Young Ju arrives in American she speaks no English. Instead of using the name for thing like "toilet paper" she describes them using a child imagination. When she is in American, English dialogue is written how she hears it, not how it is spelled, "Tees es Yung or Wah koum, Young' the class says.

The follows Young Ju life from age 4 to college age and the voice matures with her from a child amazed with the number of rooms in her aunt's house to a young woman who becomes American without the support of her father wish to keep her Korean. Her father is a mean violent alcoholic. Like with all alcoholics the family has good times. When he first arrives in American he has dream of success, to work hard and buy his family a home of their own. As time passed so do his dream he begin to drink more, missing work and losing his job. He struggles with the new culture we see him reading the Korean newspaper but has trouble filling out immigration forms. Young Ju's mother life means working two jobs, taking care of the family while being physically abused by her husband.

Young Ju's struggles to understand what is going on in school and then trying to explain to her parents different American School girl activities that are strange to her Korean culture. By the time she is ready to leave for college her father has returned to Korea and her family has moved into their own home.

Na fills the story with Korean culture, through family dynamics when he brother is born activities that she is punished for her father praises her brother. The language is rich with Korean words that are made intelligible by the context and the reader's easy pronunciation.

A Step from Heaven is more than about a child's experience in a new country it a story of sorrow and joy about a families struggle to fine their way in a new country without losing their cultural identity.