Making Curriculum Pop

Back in April Susannah Brown launched a wonderful discussion about the graphic novel American Born Chinese (ABC).

Since that post I've worked with two teachers on this graphic novel and a certain author of note has appeared right here at MC Pop.

I think Alan Teasley's comments on the Part 1 post are extremely rich and telling in terms of the ways people respond to this graphic novel.

The stereotypes in the book are vicious, and one would have to wonder if a book with similar stereotypes of another minority would manage to come within a ten mile radius of a school library. I think Yang walks a very fine line with this issue. In my opinion, he successfully creates a context and tone where these ugly and complicated issues can be safely discussed in classrooms with mindful facilitators. I LOVE Alan's mention of using the "Stuff White People Like" book/website as a supplement.

I do think the genius of this book is that is looks like three simple stories. It is anything but simple - it is a story with may layers that can be read differently at many grade levels.

To assist folks with ABC there are a few prefab websites y'all might want to be aware of as remix material for your poppin' curriculum:

• Mr. Yang has a great website called "Comics In Education" that is loaded with interesting materials.

• ABC's publisher (First Second) has a study guide designed to help you teach history using ABC.

• The Kennedy Center in Washington DC prepared a simple, but useful PDF with Mr. Yang's bio, basic background, and some basic questions/ideas.

• Lastly I came across this rather large MS Word doc filled with study questions - unfortunately the author has not attached their name to the text. Judging from the url I have to guess that the author is a teacher at The Academy of Arts and Sciences (High School) in San Francisco. As you read the guide the prompts get progressively more interesting. At the end of the document the author puts forth the following ideas/ resources:

1.. Learning About and Applying Jin's Move to a New Place “A Virtual Journey into San Francisco 's Chinatown .” Update/creation date unavailable. Harcourt School Publishers. Accessed 22 Sep. 2007. a href="">>;. An interesting look at Chinatown and the Chinese American culture of that area. This will help give students an idea of the area Jin left in American Born Chinese . Have students compare Chinatown with maybe a typical suburban area, and suggest reasons why it was difficult for Jin to fit in at his new school at first. Students may write a response about how they would handle moving to a completely different area.

2. Understanding Why Jin Felt Alienated at School
“Anti-Chinese Agitation.” 15 Mar. 2005. American Memory from the Library of Congress. Accessed 22 Sep. 2007. a href="">; .
This site provides a comprehensive background to the beginnings of anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States . The site also provides excellent primary sources, including photos and letters, which illustrate the conditions faced by early Chinese immigrants, as well as connection questions to help students begin to think about the social history of Yang's book.

3. The Tradition of Staying Close
“Setting the Stage.” Update/creation date unavailable. Teaching with Historical Places. Accessed 22 Sep. 2007. a href="">;.
This site provides a good explanation of why early Asian immigrants tended to settle together, including a background of the political and social atmosphere. In light of American Born Chinese , you may want to emphasize with your students the tradition of living together, and how frightening it might be for someone to move away from such a close-knit community.

4. Understanding Self-Imposed Labels
Watkins, Hilary. Original idea. “What Are You?” Brigham Young University . 22 Sep. 2007. Please fold a paper in half lengthwise. In one column, list everything about yourself you believe is defining, such as race, religion, height, gender, language, etc. In the other column, have write if the label is positive, negative, or both. This exercise should help your awareness of labels, as well as their influence on their own self-imposed labels. Discuss with your group.

5. The Influences Behind the Book
Yang, Gene Luen. Personal web log. Update/creation date unavailable. Humble Comics. Accessed 22 Sep. 2007. .
Yang's blog is a great way to become familiar with the man who wrote the book. He has many links to sites relating both to Chinese Americans and to the comics medium, which students can view to help round out their understanding of the traditional and cultural background of American Born Chinese .

6. More About ABC 's Three Stories
Yang, Gene Luen. Professional web log. Update/creation date unavailable. First Second. Accessed 22 Sep. 2007. .
This page explains the origin of the three story threads featured in this book. Yang's own explanation helps students understand the “whys” of writing these stories, and the significance of these stories to him as a Chinese American.

7. Negative Perceptions that Persist Today
Yi, Matthew and Ryan Kim. “Asian Americans seen negatively: Results of landmark survey startling, disheartening.” San Francisco Chronicle 27 Apr. 2001, A1. a href="">;.
This article, contemporary to American Born Chinese , explains the unpleasant sentiments towards Asian Americans that still persist from earlier centuries. This article would be a good springboard for class discussion about race perceptions.

8. The History Behind Chinese Names
“Family Tree of Chinese Last Names Dating Back to 5,000 Years!” 2000. Yutopian Online. Accessed 29 Sep. 2007. a href="">>;.
Students can reference this site during their reading to discover the meanings of the names that come up in the book. The traditions behind these names may help students to understand Yang's selection in his novel.

9. Finding Legends Around the World
“Mythology & Legends.” Update/creation date unavailable. ThinkQuest. Accessed 29 Sep. 2007. a href="">>;.
As students begin to look for their own tale to write about in a personal narrative and to incorporate into a comic strip, this site can help introduce them to a broad range of myths and legends from around the world. Many sites will then help students narrow down their search.

10. Negative Racial Images in Art
“Racial Stereotypes in Popular Cultural.” 15 Mar. 2005. American Memory from the Library of Congress. Accessed 29 Sep. 2007. a href="">;.
This site provides a wealth of racially stereotyped cartoons from an era of Chinese immigration to the United States . In light of the comic style of this book, the cartoons show how Chinese Americans used to be perceived and portrayed in popular American culture. Teachers can underscore with students the need to be responsible in the art and literature they create, as it will influence many who participate in it.

11. More Chinese Legends
Jordan, David K. “Chinese Tales.” Personal website. U of California , San Diego . Accessed 29 Sep. 2001.
Students can reference this site for ideas for their comic strip. This emeritus professor's page contains links to dozens of traditional Chinese stories he has collected in his research. Many would be appropriate for a student to involve in their personal narratives and then draw into a comic.

12. Who Was the Monkey King?
Yang, Gene Luen. “The Monkey King.” 2001. Humble Comics. Accessed 29 Sep. 2007. a href="">>;.
The story of the monkey king is probably foreign to most students. Yang created an in-depth site about the history and variations on the traditional tale, as well as his Christian reinterpretation of a piece of his Chinese heritage. This is a very student-friendly site; they can explore this after reading the first section on the monkey king in the novel.

Shout outs to the anonymous teacher/s? at The Academy of Arts and Sciences (High School) in San Francisco - your resources are excellent - find us and tell us who you are!!

Hope this is helpful for folks trying to tackle this wonderful text!


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Replies to This Discussion

Here is a podcast from that highlights American Born Chinese:
Thank you for sharing that resource Lisa!




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