Monday, June 25, 2007

American Born Chinese and To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (First Second)

The list of awards for this book is long. It’s the first graphic novel to be selected as a National Book Award Finalist and it was awarded the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association, along with several other Book of the Year awards from various entities. It has also been nominated for Eisner awards for Best Graphic Album and Best Colorist (Lark Pien).

The book consists of three separate stories that all come together in the end. The first story is about Jin Wang, born to Chinese immigrant parents in America, who has to deal with not only school, friends, and girls, but also being one of just a few Asian students in his school – his struggle for identity is the heart of the book. The second (and most entertaining) story is a version of the Monkey King legend, and the third story is a sitcom about an over-the top stereotypical Chinese cousin named Chin-Kee. In the end, the knitting together of the three stories isn’t exactly seamless, but the message is crystal clear: Be yourself.

I enjoyed the book, but I did have to reread the ending a few times to sort it all out. I found the mixture of the Monkey King legend with Christianity a little odd (the Monkey King is shown at one point as one of the three wise men from the Bible) but I suppose it’s an example of the mixing of Chinese and American culture. At first I wasn’t sure about the Chin-Kee character, but in the end he makes sense as a symbol of everything Jin wants to escape. Overall, American Born Chinese is an entertaining read and speaks not only to kids struggling with cultural identity, but to all of us – the questions, “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” are universal.

American Born Chinese is not for little ones – there are several sexual references (though they went right over the girls’ heads) and some violence. I recommend American Born Chinese for high school and young adult libraries, though, depending on the community, it could work for middle school as well.

Read a preview of American Born Chinese here.

On a side note, Gene Yang’s website is very interesting. I particularly enjoyed the Monkey King section and Comics in Education, Yang’s final project proposal for his Masters of Education degree.

Shelby says: This is a really great book. The art and colors are really simple, except some things like peaches or someone’s fist would have two different colors blended together. The writing is really cool because there are three stories that all come together in the end. One story is about a boy named Jin whose parents came from China to America. The second story is about Danny whose cousin is Chin-Kee who is all of the stereotypes of Chinese people. The third is about the Monkey King who learns that he should just be himself and not try to be anyone else. I like the part when the Monkey King locks himself underground and learns 12 different disciplines because it shows him in fire, ice, underwater, and with his head off! I liked the drawing on page 133 where there are mountains and fog is coming up because it looks very cool. I would think that the ages for this are about teen and up because there’s a bit of violence and talk about girl and boy stuff.

Sarah says: I like American Born Chinese because it’s three stories made into one. One of the stories was really supposed to be like a TV show. I also figured out that the fighting moves in one part were Chinese restaurant foods. My favorite part was the Monkey King part which is based on an old Chinese folktale because it has monkeys in it – what’s better than that? I think it won all those awards because it was one of the most complicated and interesting comics I’ve ever read.

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel (Aladdin)

More a memoir than a story, To Dance follows Siena Cherson Siegel’s life as a dancer from beginner classes in Puerto Rico to George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York to performing onstage at Lincoln Center. I enjoyed To Dance and was moved to tears near the end (I won’t spoil the book by telling you why). It reads as a sequence of memories, not a storyline, so just as in our memories some things are detailed while others gently fade away. The book lightly touches on the negative side of dance (injury, the pressure to stay thin) but is mostly full of glowing memories of ballet, from practice to the stage. My only complaint is that the last splash page, which is a touching end to the book, has been used as the end paper inside the back cover and I’m afraid some readers will miss it.

To Dance is touching and lovely and truly belongs in every library. To me it is a standout among the Eisner nominees for Best Publication for a Younger Audience and really should win.

Sarah says: The book is a story about one girl who wants to do ballet and shows her being a different level of a dancer year after year. My favorite part was where they talked about how dancers wore Japanese robes backstage. Some pictures had a basic color, like red, yellow, or blue, and some pictures were just regular colors. I think he did that to show different places. It’s easy to understand and I think this book is mostly for young girls. I understood what was going on even though I didn’t know who some of the famous people were. If you don’t know about dance you would still like it.

Shelby says: The art in To Dance is really colorful and pretty. The story starts with the girl when she is six years old. She goes to the doctor and her mother is told she has flat feet. So her mother signs her up for dance classes. But then the story is very sad in some parts but other parts were really happy. Like when the girl is in the Nutcracker or she gets to dance in a ballet that the founder of her ballet school choreographs. It has a couple of pages that show when the girl injures her leg a couple of times and she ends up injuring her ankle so bad that she has to stop dancing professionally. This book is for young girls or ballerinas.

See a preview of To Dance here.


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