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YA Lit Reviews
Asian - American Lit

Yep, Laurence.  1997. The Case of the Goblin Pearls. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

ISBN: 0060244445

Ages: 9-12


Laurence Yep, a multi-award winning writer,  has created a series of mysteries featuring the famous movie star Tiger Lil, and her very young sidekick Lily. Their adventures take place in San Francisco's Chinatown, and each book has a wonderful mix of cast and characters, both good and bad. As an out of work actress, Tiger Lil is quite the businesswoman. But never overlook her commitment to her community.  She does PR, fixes problems, and solves some of the mysteries that occur in Chinatown.  Lily is her young niece, a bundle of energy who seems likely to follow in her Aunt's footsteps.


Yep's first mystery begins with Lily about to meet her aunt for the first time. Tiger Lil is coming to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year and she will be responsible for one of the floats in the parade. Lilys introduction to her aunt is also our introduction. Unknown to Lily, her mother has been keeping a scrapbook that was begun by her own mother, and lilys grandmother. It is filled with reviews of Tiger Lil and her movies.  This intrigues Lily, and she sets out to see her aunts film work for the first time.  When Lily meets Tiger Lil, she is fascinated, and quickly becomes Tiger Lil's sidekick through out all the stories. Yep depicts respect for ancestors and connection to extended families that sometimes is not a part of cultural life for some Americans.


Yep says: "Chinatown is a state of mind." He also says he wrote these mysteries to talk about what he loves and hates about Chinatown. His books are a wealth of information about Chinese American culture as it exists in San Francisco, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since it is the Chinese New Year, Yep mentions the use of Firecrackers to scare away evil spirits and goblins. In Chinatown there is a rash of tuberculosis as a current health problem. He mentions the Powell Street Boys, bringing in gang issues to the story. Yep's Chinatown is an interconnected community of good and bad, old and new citizens, and tradition and non-tradition. He also mentions the problems of Happy Fortune a company using and abusing illegal immigrants and others who have difficulty getting work. He also manages to wrap everything up in a wonderful mystery to be solved by Tiger Lil and Lily. This is a wonderful series to read and enjoy on many different levels. 

Amazons Links from Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal. 

Meet Laurence Yep. Short biography. 

This learning resource file has great links on the page. 

Biography of Laurence Yep. 

Bibliography of Yep's works.


His other Chinatown mysteries in this series are:


Yep, Laurence. 1999. The Case of the Lion Dance (Chinatown Mystery , No 2). New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

ISBN: 0060244488

Ages: 9-12 

Amazons Links including reviews from Library School Journal and Booklist.


Yep, Laurence.  1999. The Case of the Firecrackers (Chinatown Mystery , No 3). New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

Amazons  links including reviews from School Journal and Booklist.


Say, Allan. 1997. Allison. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.

ISBN: 039585895X

Ages 4-8


Allison is a young girl who just begins to realizes that she does not look like her parents. Her question is: where do I come from? Where do I belong? Who do I belong to or with? Allan Say explores these questions through text and watercolor illustrations in this book.


The cover art is a headshot of Allison, a young Japanese American child adopted by white parents. She is beginning to go to school and out into the public world where she finds that other families are not the same as hers, and she begins to ask questions about adoption. The title page has a watercolor of a kitten. This is the stray kitten who is alone. Allison adopts the kitten and makes it part of her family in the same way that Allison's parents have adopted her.


Each two page spread is divided into one page of text and one page of  illustration. The illustrations highlight the action and emotions in the text on each page. The visual of Allison in her kimono holding her doll Mei-Mei that she thinks of as a sister, with her white parents behind her is very much a family photo.


Say  paints with a wonderful style of realism. The works in this book tell the story in their own way. You see Allison's light brown skin in contrast to her mother and fathers pale peach skin. Her straight black relatively short hair contrasts with her mother's short red hair. The classroom full of children who look similar to their parents is in contrast to Allison's parents, who are very different from Allison. All   through the story Allison is depicted as solemn and somber, but in the last two illustrations, Allison has come to a small understanding of her life. She is much happier, and  in the last painted illustration she is actually laughing with her family. 

Amazons Links including reviews from Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews. 


Interview with Stephanie Loer.


Wong, Janet. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. Scott Foresman.

ISBN: 0689506171

Ages 9-12

Janet Wong's book Good Luck Gold and Other Poems, is a Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit Award winner. Her work here deals with prejudices that one might face as an Asian American living and growing up in Los Angeles. These 42 poems tend to be fairly short, and all of them are only one page long. She packs a lot of feelings, emotions, and issues into each poem.


In Lessons, Wong  writes about class, and the differences between children introduced to the practicalities of life early on, and children shielded or protected from realities that exist in the world. Who will have a tougher time as an adult? Does it make a difference? Wongs work raises such questions as  these within her poetry.


Wong talks about stereotypes of Asian Americans in her short poem Math:


Asians are supposed to be good at math.

Mr. Chao cant figure me out.

Asians are quiet. Asians like numbers.

            Me, I like to shout.


Her conversation with Mr. Chao is about someone who sees a group rather than an individual, and Wong highlights that by allowing herself to respond to the stereotypical beliefs about Asians that run through the United States.


While Wong may not specifically be trying to, she taps into the Universal when she talks about family, connections between people, and food. These are commonalities that most of us share, and Wong's viewpoint is wonderful to see.


In many of her poems she speaks about her cultural markers.  From bamboo flutes and loud drums to mentions of Chinatown from a visitors perspective; from green banana leaves to roast duck, noodles,  and the use of chopsticks, Wong reminds us of her multicultural position and point of view. If you listen, her poems have a lot to say 

Wongs Official Home Page. 

A Chat with Janet Wong by Sylvia Wong.



Choi, Yangsook. 2001. The Name Jar. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

ISBN: 037580613X

Ages 4-8


Yangsook Choi wrote and illustrated this book about Unhei (Yoon-hye), a young girl from South Korea who moves to the U. S. She struggles with ideas of assimilation and difference. While she is proud of her name, Unhei finds that Americans have trouble pronouncing her name, coming up with such mangled attempts like you hey, hey you.  She wonders if it would be better for her to choose a new name that would be easier to pronounce. When she tells her classmates she is thinking about a new name, they set up a name jar where the students begin to drop in possible names for Unhei to choose from.


The first single page shows Unhei, a young Korean girl, her skin light brown, her hair dark, short and straight, looking out a bus window on her first day of school. The first two-page spread is a wonderful little flashback of Unhei with her grandmother, who has given her a name stamp or chop with her name carved on a wooden block in Korean characters. Over the course of the story many people, including her mother, try to talk Unhei out of a new name, but she remains undecided until the end of the story.


Choi gives us a glimpse of this mixed neighborhood where Unhei can see Fadils Falafels, Tonys Pizza, Dots Deli, or even Kim's Market. Its a neighborhood where all the signs are in Korean and English. Over the course of the story, she meets many people who react positively toward her, but she makes friends with one particular boy who seems to go out of his way to understand her culture. He even picks out his own Korean nickname: Chinku---meaning friend.


Like Unhei, Choi was born in Korea then came to the United States as a grown up. While she shares some of the same experiences as Unhei, there were many events in Unhei's story that were not Choi's personal experiences. Even so, Choi tells a very good children's story. She is the recipient of many book awards including An ALA notable book award and a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year for Nim and the War Effort, and best Original Art for her picture book New Cat.

A few name stamps 

Amazons Link includes reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Yangsook Choi's personal page.

Interview by Sheila J. Lindal.

Bibliography of Chois work.

Possible lesson plans using Choi's Work.

Powerful Asian American Images Revealed in Picture Books. A bibliography of Asian American picture books.