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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
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Workshop 7: Social Justice and Action - Alma Flor Ada, Pam Munoz, and Paul Yee
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Alma Flor Ada
Biography
Work
Interview
Pam Munoz Ryan
Biography
Work
Paul Yee
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Biography

Third-generation Chinese Canadian writer Paul Yee is the author of books for children and young adults, of which Tales from Gold Mountain: Stories of the Chinese in the New World is one of the best known. Yee's books explore such themes as discrimination, identity, assimilation, and other realities of living between two cultures.

According to the Canadian Children's Book Centre:

The love of literature and the personal importance of his cultural heritage are both important in Yee's work, where he weaves the history and culture of Chinese Canadians into his stories. His desire to write about the largely untold, early history of Chinese Canadians has inspired Yee to provide Chinese Canadians with a sense of their culture, history, and heritage through his books.

Yee was born in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1956, and moved to Vancouver at an early age after his parents died. He lived with a foster family for a time, and then was raised in Chinatown by his aunt. While Aunt Lillian spoke both Chinese and English fluently, she wanted Yee and his older brother to be grounded in their Chinese culture. According to papertigers.org, a Web site for teachers interested in the Pacific Rim and South Asia, English was not to be spoken in the home, and the boys went to Chinese school. They were even taken to movies from Hong Kong on weekends. "So we had this huge exposure to Chinese traditional stories, Chinese values, Chinese concepts of good and bad, evil and justice," recalls Yee. "I grew up surrounded by plenty of Chinese images."

But Yee was lured by life outside the protected enclave. He has said he had a "typical Chinese Canadian childhood, caught between two worlds, and yearning to move away from the neighborhood." Leaving Chinatown and going to college gave Yee some separation from his Chinese-intensive upbringing. But soon he developed a renewed interest in his native culture -- "my point of rebirth," he called it -- and he began to volunteer at the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Center.

Yee completed a B.A. and then a master's degree in history at the University of British Columbia. History led him to a career as an archivist, working first for the city of Vancouver and then moving to Toronto to become Multicultural Coordinator for the Archives of Ontario.

Though he had been an avid reader as a child and had later written some short stories, Yee attributes his career in children's literature to a "fluke." The publishing company Lorimer wanted a children's book set in Vancouver's Chinatown for its Adventures in Canada series. Familiar with his background and his volunteer work in the Chinese community, Lorimer asked Yee to write it. Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter was the result, a set of interwoven stories about four 11-year-old immigrants living in Vancouver.

Since Skyfighter was published in 1983, Yee has written many more novels and collections of stories for children and young adults. Many of his books are set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the period when Yee's family came to Vancouver, and a time when discrimination against the Chinese was unsparing. A writer at Canadian Children's Books credits Yee with making "a notable contribution to Canadian children's literature by fusing the unique details of ethnic experience with the universal concerns for identity and love."

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