Sunday, December 4, 2011

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese

Bibliographic Information:

Yang, G. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596431522.


Plot Summary:

A graphic novel that weaves the stories of 3 indviduals: Jin Wang, Danny, and a monkey king. All to tell one very beautiful story about cultural identity and fitting in.

Critical Analysis:

As mentioned in the plot summary, this narrative is told in 3 sects. Jin Wang, an American born Chinese boy that is transferred to what appears to be a small town where Asian stereotypes are all the student body knows about the culture, Danny who appears to be a popular, blond jock, but who has a cousin named Chin-Kee that fits an Asian stereotype, and then The Monkey King, the name is self explanatory.

Both The Monkey King and Jin Wang are pressured by conventional social norms to try and and conform to Anglo, or in the Monkey King's case, human pressures, and they both feel shame in who they are and where they come from. The third character Danny, who is white with an Asian cousin is really Jin Wang denying his heritage and trying to mainstream as white, with the annoying cousin Chin-Kee representing what he is trying to oppress. I don't think I gave anything away there and, the foreshadowing to that fact is littered throughout the graphic novel.

The author Gene Yang makes references to Asian folklore and traditions which leads one early on to believe that Danny is going to be Jin Wang in denial. Anyhow, the culmination of Asian folklore and myth as if it is common knowledge to the reader is really fascinating as well as adds a unique way of telling this age old story in modern terms.

The book also makes use of humor by exposing and over exaggerating Asian stereotypes and generalizations. The humor is over the top and ridiculous, which is the only way to approach the issue. For example, Chin-Kee brings "clispy flied cat gizzards wiff noodles", and wants to find an American girl with a nice bosom so that he can bind her feet and make little Chin-Kee's, etc.

I really loved this graphic novel and would recommend it to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Especially at a younger age (6-26), I have seen friends and partners from ethnically diverse backgrounds try to blend in or hide their heritage. So, I see this graphic novel as one that is addressing a very real issue that everyone has come in contact with at one point in their lives.

This beautifully produced graphic novel contains three storylines which come together in a well-constructed final chapter. The first storyline concerns the classic Chinese tale of the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) and his egotistical quest to become a god above all others. The second storyline is a about a Taiwanese-American kid raised in San Francisco's Chinatown who moves with his family to the suburbs. There he tries to fit in at his new elementary school, and goes through the usual loneliness of the outsider, endures bullying, makes friends with the other two Asian kids, and falls in love with a pretty white girl. The third storyline is delivered as a tasteless sitcom about an all-American high-school boy whose life gets turned upside down when his bucktoothed stereotype of a Chinese cousin comes to visit. Although the tone is very different in each storyline, they all have something to say about being different and coming to terms with one's identity, and the way they morph into a single climax at the end is quite clever and effective. It's a nice book to give any kid who's struggling with trying to find their place in the nasty world. The artwork is very clean and simple, with traditional lettering, crisp colors, and very simple paneling (which is nicely framed by generous white space above and below). The printing is beautiful and the paper and binding is top-notch. -A. Ross (Reader's Review)

As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it's a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin's hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee's destructive glee or the Monkey King's struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character's expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. True to its origin as a Web comic, this story's clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he's depicting need no translation. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you'll already have reached out to others. -Publishers Weekly

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Bibliographic Information:

Shakur, T. (2006). The Rose That Grew From Concrete. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 9780671028459.


For Mrs. Hawkins -- In Memory of Yusef Hawkins

This poem is addressed 2 Mrs. Hawkins
Who lost her son 2 a racist society
I'm not out 2 offend the positive souls
Only the racist dogs who lied to me
An American culture plagued with nights
like the night Yusef was killed
if it were reversed it would be the work
of a savage but this white killer was just strong-willed
But Mrs. Hawkins as sure as I'm a Panther
with the blood of Malcolm in my veins
America will never rest
if Yusef dies in vain!
-page 107

In The Event Of My Demise

In the event of my demise
when my heart can beat no more
I hope I die for a principle
Or a belief that I had lived 4
I will die before my time
Because I feel the shadow's depth
So much I wanted to accomplish
Before I reached my death
I have come to grips with the possibility
And wiped the last tears from my eyes
I loved all who were positive
In the event of my demise.

You don't see any senior take-offs of his art. No garden parties with grandma bopping up to Something 2 Die 4. So, they found a name, Gangsta Rap, to somehow distinguish it from what? Polite, nice, highly compromised rap? They tried to isolate that beautiful boy who was trying to bring on the truth so that they could flood us with lies and excuses. -Nikki Giovani XV

Plot Summary:

A collection of poetry written by rapper Tupac Shakur between 1989 and 1991.

Critical Analysis:

The Rose That Grew From Concrete is a collection of four series of poems that rapper Tupac Shakur wrote from 1989 and 1991. He wrote them during a creative writing experience that he had with a UC Berkeley professor, Leila Steinburg, who would then go on to become his manager. The book of poetry also comes complete with several forwards from his manager, mother Afeni Shakur who was also a poet and activist, and the female, African-American poet, Nikki Giovanni. Reading those three forewards prior to enjoying this book of poetry several times is pivotal.

I included an excerpt of Giovanni's foreward as an example. As the forewards and poetry suggest, and after little web crawling will prove, Tupac was an incredibly interested and motivated intellect with a passion for all forms of culture and the arts. He was also a black man growing up in a single parent household, and grew up in poverty in Harlem, NY. But, as the poetry suggests, his circumstances did not break his spirit. Anyhow, much like the forewards and media evidence suggests Tupac was marginalized and then commercialized as being a violent, malevolent gangster. But, that is hardly the case. Though, he was a black man that considered himself a member of the Black Panther Organization which is an easy, and marketable target.

Anyhow, there are three series of poetry: The Rose That Grew From Concrete, Nothing Can Come Between Us, Just A Breath Of Freedom, and Liberty Needs A Glass. The first collection touches on issues of family, growing up in poverty, love, and friendship. Those poems are the most novice and a great example of an outsider poet. The thing is that Tupac does not try to impress the reader with flowery cliches or trite alliterations, but instead is very simple and honest in his word choices. I think the first series is a great example of Tupac blossoming as an aspiring poet.

The second collection, Nothing Can Come Between Us, is mostly made up of love poems to assumed partners, friends, and a miscarried child. Note, Tupac was 18 when these were written. This series contains the most ideographs which mostly consist of hearts and eyes. Once more, he was 18! I would hate for my corny 18 year old love poetry to ever be read less alone released. I could not help but take that in to consideration.

The last two series Just A Breath Of Freedom and Liberty Needs A Glass are absolutely beautiful and awe inspiring. Here, Tupac has a better grasp on poetic language and you can tell that he is more confident and going outside of his previously safer comfort levels. These collections are also a lot grittier touching on issues such as hate/race crimes, being a Black Panther, poverty, and then later on, the ominous prediction of an early death potentially due to the issues just mentioned. Tupac also hopes that he does not die in vain which is eloquently put in his last poem, In the Event of My Demise, Dedicated 2 Those Curious.

I strongly urge all to read this book whether they happen to be a poetry aficionado or not. Tupac shares a very unique and though sad at times, he is hopeful for the future. This book is an example of a beautiful and compassionate mind that can hopefully be appreciated by everyone regardless of demograph, socioeconomic class, age, or gender.

This is officially one of my favorite things to read. Its filled with so much reality, passion, breath taking. I have always been a fan of 2pac and it really does have you thinking alot about the struggles people face even if you have been in similar situations. You guys need to purchase this book. You wont be disappointed. Inspiring and breath taking. -Outthere22, A Reader's Review

A collection of poetry written by the rapper between 1989 and 1991, before he became famous. The poems are passionate, sometimes angry, and often compelling. Selections are reproduced from the originals in Shakur's handwriting, personalized by distinctive spelling and the use of ideographs (a drawing of an eye for I, etc.), and complete with scratch outs and corrections. With the exception of "In the Event of My Demise," all of the pieces are accompanied by typed text, which leaves his spelling intact. Some poems are also accompanied by his drawings. A few black-and-white photographs appear throughout. A preface by Shakur's mother, a foreword by Nikki Giovanni, and an introduction by his manager, Leila Steinburg, in whose writing group the poems were written, complete this unique volume. -School Library Journal

A Wreath For Emmett Till

The Wreath For Emmett Till

Bibliographic Information:

Nelson, M. (2006). A Wreath For Emmett Till. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 9780618397525.


Rosemary for remembrance, Shakespeare wrote.
If I could forget, believe me, I would.
Pierced by the screams of a shortened childhood.

Emmett Till's name still catches in my throat.
Mamie's one child, a boy thrown to bloat,
Mutilated boy martyr. If I could
Erase the memory of Emmett's victimhood,
The memory of monsters...That bleak thought
Tears through the patchwork drapery of dreams.

Let me gather spring flowers for a wreath:

Trillium, apple blossoms, Queen Anne's lace,
Indian pipe, bloodrot, white as moonbeams,
Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death,
Like his gouged eye, which watched boots kick his face.

Plot Summary:

A collection of interweaving sonnets to remember the death of Emmett Till and his martyrdom that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

Critical Analysis:

A Wreath for Emmett Till is a collection of sonnets in which the last line of a sonnet becomes the first line of the following. The style and rhyme scheme is called Patrarchan, being named after the poet Petrarch who invented the style in the 14th century.

Though the style the sonnets were written in is old, the poem is very modern in his topic and references. This poem is about the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was brutally slained and mutilated for potentially whistling or being flirtatious towards a white woman in 1955.

The poem serves as a remembrance of Emmett Till, takes in to consideration the perspective of a scared boy, a mother's loss, how Emmett's mother used the incident to incite the Civil Rights Movement, how Emmett's death served as a martyrdom for the movement, then remembers other faceless victims that have suffered due to civic injustice, then aspires to inspire hope.

The poem makes a lot of references to Shakespeare, his characters such as Ophelia and wreath building traditions, Billie Holiday's song and Lewis Allen's poem Strange Fruit, 9-11 and the World Trade Center, folklore, and of course a lot of biblical references.

There is no way I could dislike this poem because the story resonates with me so deeply. I think that Nelson did a good job in not reliving the tragedy but, instead taking on past and present perspectives. I feel that with the mention of 9-11 and wreaths made of various flowers towards the end was a bit distracting for me personally. I think I understand what she was getting at; Hatred, fear, injustice, etc. are still as prevalent today as they were in 1955 and we need to continue to advocate for peace and civil rights. I just personally would not compare the victims of the 9-11 attacks to Emmett Tills death. That is all.

This is a good book to be enjoyed by all but, especially for juveniles with an interest in civil rights, or as a teaching tool when introducing the civil rights movement and Emmett Till to youth.

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary -School Library Journal

Although written for children, I had to read the book twice to "feel" the horrible images that this book so beautifully captures. References to flower, plants, and trees are symbolic and make up the "wreath" for Emmett. Please read this book and share the experience with your children. The incident is described as the motivating force of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a wake-up call to all those who continue to live a life of apathy and denial when it comes to standing up for the legacy of the African American struggle. -Linda Jo Smith, A Reader's Review