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Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain Book Poster Image
Historic immigration station comes alive in photos, poems.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain includes photographs, poems, interview excerpts, and more, creating a well-constructed history for young people about San Francisco's immigration station, which operated from 1910 to 1940. Readers will especially learn about the prejudices faced by the Chinese, the majority of the immigrants who passed through Angel Island. The author also provides context, describing the sentiment of the time and prejudicial laws, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which kept all but a select group of Chinese immigrants from entering the country.

Positive Messages

This book helps young readers understand why it's important to remember even painful and shameful parts of American history. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alexander Weiss was a state park ranger who helped save the poems carved on the walls by immigrants passing through Angel Island, preserving an important part of history for future generations. 

Violence

Readers learn about a mob attack in Los Angeles against the Chinese, which ended with 17 Chinese people lynched and two stabbed to death. They also learn that at an early, unsanitary detention center, some people died. Later at Angel Island, a man killed himself when he learned he had to return to China.  

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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain constructs a compelling history for young people about San Francisco's immigration station that operated from 1910 to 1940, using photographs, poems, interview excerpts, and more. Readers will especially learn about the prejudice faced by Chinese people, the majority of the immigrants who passed through Angel Island. Author Russell Freedman also provides context, describing the sentiment of the time, including a mob attack in Los Angeles that ended with 17 Chinese people being lynched and two being stabbed to death, and prejudicial laws, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred all but a select group of Chinese immigrants. This book helps young readers understand why it's important to remember even painful and shameful parts of American history. It also celebrates Alexander Weiss, a former state park ranger who helped preserve the poems carved on the walls by immigrants passing through Angel Island. The book describes harsh conditions at immigration centers, including an early detention center where unsanitary conditions caused the deaths of several people, and the suicide of a man at Angel Island, who'd been told he had to return to China.  

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What's the story?

Through photographs, original poems, and interview excerpts, author Russell Freedman tells young readers about the experience of immigrants coming through San Francisco's Angel Island during its operation from 1910 to 1940. Though immigrants came from 80 countries, he focuses especially on Chinese immigrants, since most of Angel Island's immigrants "were mainly from China and other parts of Asia." He describes how the Chinese were subject to intense hardships, including long interrogations, unexplained delays, and humiliating examinations. He also provides historical context: The prejudice the Chinese faced in the West, including the murder of 19 Chinese people by a mob in Los Angeles, and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, "the first time the United States excluded immigrants because of their nationality or race." The book ends with a description of what visitors see when they visit Angel Island today, including the "men and women's dormitories, where so many human dramas unfolded."

Is it any good?

ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN is a well-constructed history for young people. Simple text and a big font make it easy for young readers to understand this often-overlooked piece of American history. Freedman's book also gives voice to Chinese immigrants trapped without recourse in a prejudiced system. The poems in particular help readers connect with immigrants' overwhelmed, anxious feelings as they awaited their fate ("Angel Island / Angel Island, all the people said. / So I thought it would be like heaven. / Yet when the iron gate locks with a clang -- / It feels like hell.") This would be a great read-aloud book for parents to share with tweens, as there's plenty for families to talk about, including their own ancestors' immigration stories, why it's important to remember shameful chapters of our history, and more.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their own immigration stories. How did your family come to where you live?

  • The park ranger says that kids whose "parents and grandparents had come through Angel Island...had no idea of this history." Why didn't their families share their stories?

  • How do the immigrants' own words help us understand history?

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