AMERICAN BORN CHINESE
is an amazing feat of writing. Gene Yang successfully intertwines three
seemingly unrelated stories: The Monkey
, Jin Wang
, and Chin Kee
. The Monkey King is an
allegorical Chinese rendition of the journey made by the famous Chinese monk,
Xuan Zang (602-664). The original story
has Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, superstitions, and other Taoist and
Buddhist themes. Jin Wang is a new Chinese American student who doesn’t fit in
at his predominately White school. He befriends Wei Chen, another Chinese
American boy who is struggling with the same.
Throughout this story, Jin Wang desperately wants to assimilate and
abandon his Chinese culture. Chin Kee is the most stereotypical Chinese person:
loud, obnoxious, strong accent. When he
visits his cousin Danny –– the epitome of White, high school boys: athletic, popular
with girls, etc. –– he is completely embarrassed.
only does Gene Yang knit these three stories together masterfully, he forces
the reader to constantly examine what they are reading and combines it with
evidence he has already presented in order to infer what will happen next. The
character development is amazing. No
character distracts from the overall story of finding acceptance in a world
different from theirs.
am, by no means, an art expert. However,
as an avid graphic novel reader and teacher who uses graphic novels in my
classroom, there are a few things about AMERICAN BORN CHINESE that I really
Yang’s illustrations are simple and in color.
There is just enough detail to make it look realistic without seeming
like a cartoon.
illustrates each page in the same sized 4-6 panels. This may not seem relevant,
but when introducing fifth graders to the elements of graphic literature
(gutters, panels, speech and thought bubbles), this simplicity is very helpful.
It is also effective at forcing the reader to slow down
students may not pick up on this, but I really appreciate the subtle Chinese
symbols embedded in each section. Each character’s story has their Chinese pin-yin
character stamped on
each page in the traditional red-colored dye.
spoiling the ending, this story could not have been told in straight prose. Characters
changing from the beginning of the story to the end could only be told in a
graphic novel format.
is where the fun begins. Depending on the age level of your students, there are
tons of applications for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE.
You can focus on Chinese mythology, racism, stereotypes, intertwining
separate narratives, and character development. However, for my particular
needs, I wanted to use AMERICAN BORN CHINESE to teach the reading strategy of making
is a particularly difficult reading strategy to teach. I have always struggled
with illustrating how readers need to “read between the lines” and combining
your schema (what you already know) with what you read. It is very abstract for students to grasp.
This is why I love using graphic novels to teach reading, especially AMERICAN
the character development is so strong in this book, I use each character as an
example in inferring character traits.
For example, on page 37, Wei Chen introduces himself to Jin Wang.
is a perfect opportunity for students to try and discover more about Wei Chen.
As a class, we examine Wei’s body language, his speech bubbles, his thought
bubbles, his actions (panel illustrations); all to infer what characteristics
|AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Yang|
same chart can be used for any character; and can be modified for making
inferences about the setting and plot.
The Monkey King
sections, there is a
fair amount of new vocabulary for students.
Using a simple chart (Table 1), you can have students make inferences
for new vocabulary words.
are a ton of possibilities for using AMERICAN BORN CHINESE in the classroom. Nevertheless,
using effective reading strategies for comprehending text is a skill that can
be (and should be) taught at any grade level.
Author & Illustrator:
you are selective about which sections to use in the classroom, AMERICAN BORN
CHINESE can be used effectively to teach inferencing in as early as grades 4-5.
However, if you intend to teach the entire book, whether as a novel study or
lesson in character development throughout the story, I would recommend
middle school to high school
There is some occasional profanity (“hell” spoken), cigarette smoking, some
gross boy humor, and some bloody violence (when the demons stab the monk on
some would disagree, I think it is entirely appropriate to begin conversations
in sixth grade classrooms about racial bullying and the idea of having a double
consciousness (when one’s identity is divided into two opposing facets). In
fifth grade, the discussion may look more like an anti-bullying lesson, but I
think middle school students can handle many of the themes presented
throughout: humility, fitting in, and one’s identity.