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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
Tales from Gold Mountain: Stories of the Chinese in the New World

This is a collection of eight original stories that are set in the mid- to late 1800s, when gold mines beckoned and workers were needed to build the Canadian and American railroads. These stories inhabit the great historical movement that Chinese Canadian writer Paul Yee interprets so well: the immigrant experience. In the book's afterword, Yee states his intention to "carve a place in the North American imagination for the many generations of Chinese who have settled here as Canadians and Americans, and help them stake their claim to be known as pioneers, too." A reviewer in Children's Literature called this young adult book "a concise history of the Chinese experience in folklore form," and characterized the tales as "poignant, witty, and tender."

Paul Yee is a historian by training, and had a career as an archivist before beginning to write books for young people. He grew up in Vancouver's Chinatown, and has chronicled the history of Chinese Canadians in nonfiction as well as fiction books. Yee has a command of folk literature from childhood reading, and skillfully integrates ghost stories and legends into his history-infused fiction. Betsy Hearne of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books observes that Yee's stories "carry mythical overtones that lend the characters unforgettable dimension -- humans achieving supernatural power in defying their fate of physical and cultural oppression." These Tales from Gold Mountain are accompanied by dramatic full-page illustrations by artist Simon Ng, which combine traditional and abstract elements.

In the initial story, "Spirits of the Railway," Chu is a peasant forced by floods and starvation from his home in China to Canada, where he finds a job working on the railroad, encounters anti-immigrant bias, and receives wise advice from the ghost of his father, who was killed in an accident while working on the railroad himself. In "Sons and Daughters," the gods wage retribution on the children of a Chinese Canadian man who clandestinely switches his newborn twin girls for a set of male twins in China, in an effort to preserve his family name. Years later, when his "sons" go to China to find brides, fate leads them to the abandoned twins, and all four young people are cursed with barrenness. In "The Friends of Kwan Ming," the punishment meted out to a greedy and gluttonous businessman who overeats is swift and graphic: he explodes. "Gambler's Eyes" tells a tale of racism: a blind man whose intuition dazzles gamblers turns out to be concealing blue-green eyes that are a telltale sign of his interracial parentage. "Whites and Chinese alike, they mocked my mixed blood. So I shut my eyes and I opened my ears."

In "Forbidden Fruit," a narrow-minded Chinese farmer dooms his young daughter to an early death by banishing the white farmhand she loves when he asks to marry her. But in "Ginger for the Heart," the young people who encounter conflicts between cultures and traditions are able to resolve the differences wisely and to have a happy marriage. The ghost story "Rider Chan and the Night River" contrasts the behavior of two brothers seeking New World treasure. The industrious brother encounters the ghost of the partner of his lazy, greedy brother -- the partners have killed each other in a fight. The ghost directs the virtuous brother to a store of gold, which this surviving brother takes back to his mother in China. In the final tale, "The Revenge of the Iron Chink," a faithful employee retaliates against the cold-blooded employer who has replaced him with a machine, showing that just because the boss is a fellow Chinese Canadian doesn't mean he is an ally.


Tales from Gold Mountain was well received by reviewers. The book is "told in richly evocative language," according to Horn Book, "... and the stories skillfully blend the hardships and dangers of frontier life in a new country with the ancient attitudes and traditions brought over from China... [The images of Tales from the Gold Mountain] will stay with the reader for a long time." Yee's collection of stories has won many awards, including the British Columbia Book Prize for Children's Literature, the I.O.D.E. Violet Downey Book Award, and the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Book Prize, and it was listed as a Parents' Choice Honor book.

Paul Yee describes his stories as about nine parts imagination to one part "stories I heard when I was growing up... The Chinese stories operate within the particular context of New World history. It's not just a blend of the new with the old but the creation of a New World mythology. Every group that comes to North America leaves an imprint of itself that can be shaped into fiction."

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