Saturday, April 25, 2009


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Marcy Alvarado

Student Reviewer, UTEP

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE depicts the life of an adolescent Chinese boy and the struggles he encounters throughout his childhood and education. Although there are several stories occurring throughout the novel, they all tie in with characters struggling against discrimination, the quest for self-identity, self-acceptance and truth.

It is clear that Jin Wang’s family moves to America to give him a better life and more opportunities for Jin. Jin Wang’s curiosity with the transformer action figure is symbolic of Jin’s desire to become someone greater and more accepted than the identity he was born with. This is relevant to younger secondary school students because they often find themselves trying to fit in with different crowds of kids to feel accepted and wanted by others. “A robot in disguise. Like this one! He changes into a truck…See? More than meets the eye” (28). The robot that is able to transform to something unexpected is appealing to Jin Wang because he secretly wishes he could transform himself and give others the opportunity to discover more than meets the eye.

“Returning to true form” is a reoccurring theme throughout this graphic novel. The Monkey King feels he is destined to rule but has no desire to return to the form he was given. After reading this novel, middle school students could choose one story to discuss and write about. Students will identify with one or more characters and describe what the main theme is throughout the novel.

  • Students will identify adolescent themes through a cultural assimilation story.
  • Students will discuss the importance of remaining true to themselves or to their “true form.”
  • Students will discuss how this graphic novel is relevant to their lives in and out of the classroom.

Background Web Quests
Students will research information regarding the Chinese culture, customs, and traditions that affect the characters’ lives and choices in this graphic novel. This will help students understand the importance culture plays in growing up in a country where diversity is often times scorned or not readily accepted.

Discussion Questions
  • What is the main struggle each character is faced with?
  • Why is it important to remain true to yourself or to always return to your true form?
  • Discuss the importance of parents’ rules regarding expectations for children. Are your parents’ expectations similar to Jin’s parents as far as education and expectations?
  • Choose one page, panel, or phrase to discuss with a partner. Discuss why the page, panel or phrase stuck out to you. What is the significance of it and how does it relate to the graphic novel as a whole?

Students will create a few panels portraying Jin Wang’s life after high school. What will he be doing in his future? Will he fulfill his expectations his parents desire for him or will he escape his true form and create a new destiny? Students will present their predictions to the class and explain each panel through a short presentation.

1 comment:

Kevin Hodgson said...

This is one of the more interesting and intriguing graphic novels that I have read in some time and deserves the praise that it gets. Through three storylines that don't seem to make sense (but come together nicely by the end), we are immersed in the immigrant experience in a creative and intriguing way.