American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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Plot Summary: This graphic novel tells three thematically related narratives that involve their protagonists coming to terms with their relationship to their otherness. Jin Wang is a Chinese-American who feels that he cannot fit in with his peers because of his ethnic and cultural background. Danny is a white student who is embarrassed by his cousin Chin-Kee who Yang writes as a caricature of Chinese people who fits stereotypes that Americans have for Chinese people. Finally, Yang tells the more fantastical story of the Monkey King, who attempts to live among the gods who reject him for being a monkey. Yang alternates between these narratives throughout.

Accessibility:

  • Written primarily in English but makes use of Mandarin Chinese characters throughout
  • Lexile level is relatively low: 530
  • Some difficult vocabulary in the Monkey King sections related to deities or spirituality. These words are usually repeated several times, which aids comprehension.
  • Features a complex narrative structure that may be challenging for some students.
  • The simple, clean artwork provides visual support throughout to aid comprehension and to help convey the text’s themes.

Relevance:

  • All three narratives involve one or more characters trying to overcome feeling othered due to conflicts of culture or, in the Monkey King’s case, species.
  • Challenges stereotypes Americans have for Chinese and other Asian people.
  • Challenges the pressure for immigrants or the children of immigrants to adhere to the cultural norms of both mainstream America and their families’ cultures.
  • Most of the central characters are adolescents themselves.

Goodness:

  • An approachable way to teach students about complex narrative structures. The texts images provide visual supports and clearly indicate when shifts between narratives occur.
  • Yang incorporates elements of mythology in interesting ways.
  • Although the language itself is not overly difficult, the structure of the text, as well as its themes, make it more appropriate for 8th-10th graders.

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Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (anthology)

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Accessibility

  • Vocabulary: combination of English and Spanish (many poems have una mezcla)
    • Poems translated to English from Spanish and vice versa
  • No Lexile rating for poetry books, but appropriate for 7th through 12th grade
  • Wide variety of syntax complexity
  • Requires understanding of poetry conventions (lack of punctuation, personification, metaphor, simile)

Relevance

  • Many voices and experiences represented, but specifically about being Latino
  • Poems sorted into categories: Language and Identity; Neighborhoods; Amor; Family Moments, Memories; Victory
  • Many poems are about the struggle to communicate

Goodness: YES!

  • Poems could be used to teach students about:
    • Sensory language, metaphor, simile, etc.
    • Exploration of identity
  • Use poems as mentor texts and ask students to write poems about stereotypes, their neighborhood, their family
  • Pair with Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Accessibility

  • Vocab
  • 800L; ages 8-10
  • Many onomatopoeias; written in stanzas.

Relevance

  • Family migrates from Saigon, Korea to Alabama due to Vietnam War; missing family members
  • Learning to speak English
  • Culture shock and struggles
  • Partner it with Enchanted Air

Goodness

  • I enjoyed it; some of my students thought it was boring
  • Took about 3 hours to read

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Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings – Margarita Engle

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  1. Is it Accessible?
    1. Yes! It’s a poetic memoir (good for learning a new genre!) with English and some Spanish and Russian
    2. Lexile Level: 1120
    3. Ages 12+
  2. Is it Relevant?
    1. Totally! Use for themes of Language as power, especially censorship and code-switching
    2. Connect to Social Studies for Cold War Era
  3. Is it Good?
    1. Very! I used this for a “Culturally Conscious Communicators” unit with Sophomores. We focused on themes of Culture, language and identity.
  4. Other texts to explore:
    1. Partner it with Inside Out and Back Again!
    2. “What Kind of Asian are you?” Youtube video
    3. “3 ways to speak English” Jamila LyiscottTED talk

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Breaking Through by Francisco Jiménez

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Accessibility:

  • 750L ~ 5th-7th grade
  • Language: occasional Spanish words, mostly simple vocabulary (some difficult words include: disrespects, notifying, snickering, huddles, janitor)
  • Short, quick read (193 pages, but it’s a small book with large text!)

Relevancy:

  • Topics: Family, heritage & culture, discrimination & racism, poverty, coming of age, immigration
  • Main character is a bright Mexican immigrant struggling to make his way to college despite the challenges of his family’s undocumented status and poverty.

Goodness:

  • Yes- would recommend (conditionally – see below)

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  • Good story, discusses big issues such as racism and poverty without being depressing or hopeless.
  • Note: Some people had issues with this book because of the way it views meritocracy and the path to social mobility – for many people, the success that this narrative presents is not possible (or is even more difficult). However, it then presents a perfect opportunity to open up discussion about these issues through a critical lens!

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai

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Accessibility

  • 800L ~ 5th-7th grade
  • Written in prose

Relevancy

  • Family heritage and cultural background
  • The main character is a 1st generation American who returns to her parents’ country of birth to help her grandmother reunite with her grandfather

Goodness:

  • Yes- would recommend!

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Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

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  • Accessibility
    • Some complex sentence structures;
    • Lexile: 700L (for a 7th grader, would place them around a 4 on WiDA scale); recommended ages 10-18
    • Told in first person through prose
  • Relevance
    • About an 11 year old girl who is unable to communicate due to cerebral palsy; all she wants is to be able to talk and tell people she’s actually really smart
    • Would relate well to students who have known what it’s like to have their peers think they’re not smart, or who have experience with not being able to express themselves through language
  • Goodness
    • Great read; took me about 5 hours.

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PDF 

Audiobook Version 1 

Audiobook Version 2

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

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Accessibility

  • HL670 Lexile
  • General (Polysemous words)  
  • Idioms and Allusions
  • Poets, sports, pop culture, Harlem Renaissance  
  • Typically first person
    • More accessible syntax

Relevance

  • High School, 18 narrators
  • Lupe, Gloria, Raul,  Mai Tren
  • Teen pregnancy, suicide, abuse, religion, repertoires

Goodness:  YES!  

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Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

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Accessibility:

  • Lexile: N/A, but recommended for 5-8th grade
  • Written in verse, easy to comprehend vocab
  • Narrator is an ELL- first person
  • Short chapters

Relevance:

  • Narrator is a Somali refugee, culture shock, family trauma, going to school for the first time
  • Issues with it being written by a white woman from America, but that may not be noticeable to students
  • Very “happy ending”- almost everything “goes right” for Kek

Goodness: Yes- would recommend

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Audiobook

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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Accessibility

  • 870L
  • Told in first person through vignettes
  • Conversational narration – narrator is about 12-13 years old

Relevance

  • Universal themes including family, identity, coming of age

Goodness: YES!

  • Audiobook read by author is excellent
  • Use to spark conversations and writing about community and the kind of future we want for ourselves
  • Use as a model text for sensory language
  • Collage activity idea from NCTE

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PDF 

Audiobook