Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh is a wonderful picture book about a part of American history that was unfamiliar to me – the great wave of immigration that took place between 1910 and 1920 on the West Coast. The arrival and the treatment of these immigrants, from Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Asia, experienced was quite different from that of their European counterparts who arrived through Ellis Island and New York. These West Coast immigrants, primarily those from Asia in general and China in particular, were taken to Angel Island for “processing” – an experience that must have been terrifying for people who had left everything behind in order to start a better life on American shores. This must have been even more the case for the children who traveled alone, many of them “paper sons” – children who claimed to be joining their fathers who had already established themselves in America.
Paper Son tells the story of one such paper son, twelve year old Lee. Following the death of both his mother and father, Lee lives with his beloved grandparents, who love him dearly, but know that the best hope for Lee’s future lies in America. Lee’s parents had spent the last of their money to purchase a paper son slot for Lee, and on his twelfth birthday, his grandparents give him his “coaching book” – the story of his new identity, his ticket to a better life.
Lee’s journey to Angel Island, and his experience there, is beautifully told. His homesickness, his heartbreak at having to leave behind all he loved and knew, his fear that all his family’s sacrifices would be for naught – all of these are written about with great sensitivity and an eye for evocative details. I learned so much for this book, and I know my students will gain so much from reading Lee’s story. Having read this book,they will want to investigate this time period and research other paper sons. So, it will be a marvelous addition to our classroom library, a springboard for learning about our nations ‘s history.
Paper Son is part of the Tales of Young Americans Series – books where “Pivotal moments in our nation’s history are seen through the eyes of fictional young heroes whose courage and quick thinking will inspire all children.” These are, I discovered, a wonderful series, with connections to many of the events in history which we study in our social studies curriculum. I do love books such as these which served multiple uses in my classroom!
To learn more about Angel Island, you can visit this site, to learn about poems written on the walls of the holding quarters by immigrants you can visit this site, and to read first person accounts of life at Angel Island, you can visit here.
And, for an overview of Angel Island, you can view this:
I’ve been meaning to catch up on Cynthia Kadohata’s books this summer, since we LOVE both Kira Kira and Weedflower – which she wrote some time ago.
I wasn’t surprised to also fall in love with A Million Shades of Gray.
Here’s the summary from the jacket copy:
Y-Tin is brave. No one in his village denies that. And while his mother may wish that he’d spend more time on schoolwork than on training his elephant, she knows that it takes a great deal of courage and calm to handle elephants the way that Y’Tin does. He is the best handler in the village—and at thirteen years old, the youngest. Maybe he’ll even open up his own school someday to teach other Dega how to train wild elephants! That was the plan, anyway—back before the American troops pulled out of the Vietnam War, back before Y’Tin’s village was attacked by North Vietnamese forces, back before they had to start digging a massive, menacing pit, back before Y’Tin watched his life change in a million terrible ways.
Now, his bravery is truly put to the test: He can stay in his village, held captive by the North Vietnamese, or he can risk his life (and save his elephant’s) by fleeing into the jungle. A Million Shades of Gray brings us close to a world few people know about —but no one will ever forget. Heartbreaking yet full of hope, Y’Tin’s story is one of lasting friendships, desperate choices, and all that we lose when we are forced to change.
I don’t think I have read another book about this time period and from this perspective – that alone kept me glued to the book, which I read in one sitting, it was that good! Kadohata brings the unfamiliar scenery alive through her lively narrative – Y-Tin is an unforgettable character, and the story is both heartbreaking as well as uplifting. I just know that my students will be getting in line to request this book from our class library come Fall.
And then I read, The Thing About Luck, another winner!
Here’s the summary from the jacket copy:
Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.
The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.
Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.
Summer is a wonderful character – sensible yet quirky, independent yet needing her family’s love and approval, brave without knowing the extent of her courage. I loved her. I also learned a lot about wheat farming practices in the mid-West, which turned out to be much more interesting that I’d ever imagined! So, two more Kadohata books for our classroom library. and early – September book talks.
Here’s my stack of TBR’s for the week…notice, there is another Kadohata title here as well!