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The Children's Bookshelf: I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story - January 10, 2022


I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story written by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin and illustrated by Julia Kuo is a true story about one person’s struggle to win his rightful place as an American.

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in an area of San Francisco known as Chinatown.His parents had left China to find a better life in America but by 1890 they went back to China to live as the climate in America became more and more hostile. Kim Ark, seventeen years of age, was fully determined to stay in America because as he often said, “I am an American.” He lived with his aunt and uncle while working as a cook in Chinatown.

He left the country to visit his parents, as he had done several times, in 1894 but was blocked from returning to America in 1895 by agents at the border who insisted he was not an American citizen. He was detained in dark holding places at the bottom of various ships for four months! Since the 14thAmendment to the United States Constitution said anyone born in America is an American citizen, he took his case to the Supreme Court and on March 28,1898 he won!

The digital illustrations in this book are outstanding. The use of the color red is particularly eye-catching and very impactful as the reader walks the streets of Chinatown. This picture book biography is anchored by a superb timeline that covers not only Kim Ark’s story but also important immigration events that took place between 1849 and 1965.

I Am An American: The Wong Kim Ark Story with very expansive back materials will speak to readers 5-8 years of age and up (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for I Am An American

Younger Readers: What did Kim Ark see when he looked out his apartment window as a boy and when he strolled around his neighborhood that was known as Chinatown? Study the three illustrations starting with him looking out his window. Make a list of all the things that are colored red. Why was this color used and how does this color make you feel?

Younger Readers: How many people are unjustly detained below the deck of a ship returning from China? Find that illustration, study the figures in the background and count the number of people being detained. Look at Kim Ark’s face and describe what he is feeling in one word.

Older readers: What event took place on March 28, 1898? Why was this event important to Kim Ark and to all children of immigrants that were born in the United States?

Older readers: Kim Ark’s complete story is well told in the back materials. Read the timeline that runs from 1849- 1965. Make a list of what you learned from this timeline about discrimination against Chinese peoples in the United States between those dates.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.