A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese is the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award, in addition to several other literary awards and honors. It's easy to see why: The art, clever story lines, and thoughtful messages about tolerance and acceptance mark it as a winner. There's some sexual innuendo, potty humor, fighting, and a fairly graphic scene in which a monk is impaled on a spear and put on a spit over a fire, though he's rescued. An intentionally over-the-top stereotypical Chinese character -- and every protagonist's search for acceptance -- make this a better fit for teen readers who have the sophistication to understand the author's intent.
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What's the story?
Three parallel stories interlock in this graphic novel. In the first, the American-born Chinese boy of the title, Jin, moves with his family from San Francisco's Chinatown to a mostly white suburb. There he's exposed to racism (from children and adults), bullying, and taunts and is isolated until a Taiwanese boy, Wei-Chen Sun, moves in and they become friends. But Jin develops a crush on a white girl and longs to fit in. The second story is a retelling of the story of the Monkey King, a fabled Chinese character who develops extraordinary powers in his quest to be accepted as a god. The third concerns Danny, a popular Anglo boy who's visited by his cousin, Chin-Kee, a walking, talking example of the most pernicious Asian stereotypes.
Is it any good?
Though visually similar to a comic book, this superb blending of art and story is in every sense a novel -- and, with its three-story parallel structure, a rather complex one at that. This is the first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, as well as the first to be a finalist for the National Book Award -- truly marking the coming of age and acceptance of the graphic novel as a branch of children's literature.
It's easy to see why AMERICAN BORN CHINESE was chosen to break the barrier: In addition to its literary complexity, it promotes solid values of tolerance and self-acceptance. This is a good introduction to the world of graphic novels, and those who are already fans will rejoice at the mainstream acceptance they've won.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about graphic novels. What's the difference between a comic and a graphic novel? Do graphic novels deserve to be treated as literature?
Are you surprised that this book won several literary awards? What do you think that means for the future of graphic novels?
How does the book approach the theme of self-acceptance? Why are all the characters trying to be something they're not? Why, especially, would a Chinese boy want to be a blond American?
- Author: Gene Luen Yang
- Illustrator: Gene Luen Yang
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: First Second
- Publication date: September 1, 2006
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 233
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: August 13, 2020
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