Laurence Yep, who has written many children’s books about China and Chinese-Americans has carefully crafted a fictional account of his own father’s immigration to the US from China. Gim Lew Yep’s situation is an interesting one. His father was born in the United States, making him a citizen. He was born in China, but as the son of an American citizen, he also is a citizen. But that does not mean that admittance to the US will be easy. He still needs to prove he’s his father’s son, a task that seems daunting. If he fails, it could be that he and his father will be sent back to China.
Because his father has been working in America and sending home American money, in their Chinese village they are well-off ; so Gim Lew is shocked to find that his father works as a housekeeper in the United States. He was expecting his father to have an important job. As his confusion and disappointment mount, his father’s friends worry that Gim Lew will be like his brother Jong and run away from home.
For those using this book in class for immigration instruction, it does an excellent job of making it clear why the Yeps are going to America rather than staying in China. The trip to America is also described in detail, so your students will have no trouble identifying hardships suffered by immigrants on their journey. This book is also unusual; unlike most books on immigration that focus only on the new life in America, The Dragon’s Child also explains how the Chinese were often strangers when they returned to their own towns as well. I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to get books that describe the Ellis Island experience; this would make an excellent complement by providing the Angel Island experience. The book ends when Gim Lew is admitted to the US but Laurence Yep provides an afterword that explains more about the treatment of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. The afterward also contains titles of other Yep books that address the immigrant situation. He also includes a link to The Angel Island Immigration Station foundation. Definitely check out the book recommendations and immigrant voices sections.
This book is on grade level for third grade.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – There is mention of Gim Lew being a surprise or accident. His father and mother were in their forties when she became pregnant.
Profanity – “shut up.”
Death, Violence and Gore – The Gim Lew is hit for using his left hand. He character visits his grandparents’ graves with his father. He learns that back when his grandfather traveled to the US, one out of three men died on the boat trip over. A ship’s passenger says Gim Lew needs a spanking. Gim Lew learns that a man hanged himself rather than face the shame of being sent home. White men are not punished for murdering Chinese in the US.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Things are dangerous in China. The Manchus have left and all over the country generals have set up their own strongholds. There are plagues, droughts, floods and bandits. People are starving. Chinese money has lost its value. The boy is very concerned about being allowed into America. He is told that if he gets the answers wrong of if he stutters that he will be sent back to China. Some people have been detained for years at Angel Island.