In this unit, students read and discuss American Born Chinese, a graphic novel that brilliantly weaves together the challenges presented by cultural mores, racial stereotypes, assimilation, and the desire to fit in. The graphic novel is highly relevant for youth who struggle with developing and maintaining individual identities while fitting in with their larger more diverse communities. In this work, Yang unites three seemingly independent stories of Chinese folklore, an adolescent’s need to fit in, and a teenager’s struggle to balance his Chinese American heritage.
The novel’s theme provides a launching point to delve into the problem of racial stereotyping. The following excerpt from a review of the novel pinpoints the way the author evokes the challenges of racial stereotyping: “In an effort to show and tell the effects of racial stereotyping and assimilation, Yang presents one particularly egregious Chinese character, Chin-Kee, who has just arrived from China to visit his cousin Danny. Chin-Kee embraces all the negative Chinese stereotypes into one monstrous exaggerated whole. Chin-Kee’s eyes are pupil-less slits, he is drawn with a cartoon-like round face with two buck teeth. He wears traditional Chinese garments and speaks with the L/R switch (“Harro Amellica!”). It is these exaggerations that empower readers to feel the shame of racial stereotyping.” (CBLDF: “Using Graphic Novels in Education: American Born Chinese,” July 2013.) To help students engage with the novel on this level the unit begins with a 1-2 day lesson aimed engaging students in a rigorous classroom discussion about racial stereotypes.
American Born Chinese is a unit designed to teach an alternative text, the graphic novel. Because of the visual format, the unit has the ability to engage reluctant readers. Throughout the text, students will explore the advantages and disadvantages of this medium of storytelling in contrast with that of a conventional novel. Students will also engage in ongoing discussions about stereotypes, identity construction, and the American Dream using both the novel and the students’ lives as a basis for discussion.
Texts and Materials
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
- Article: “One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang” by Julie Bartel
- Article: “Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106” by Margalit Fox (optional)
- Video: “TYRUS Trailer”
- Video: “Lassie, ‘Lassie and the Flying Squirrels’– Season 15, Ep. 27 - 4/06/1969”
- Visual: Shepard Fairey: Are Greater than Fear
- Article: “New Suburban Dream Born of Asia and Southern California” by Jennifer Medina
- Visual: Shepard Fairey: Protect Each Other
- Visual: Shepard Fairey: Defend Dignity
- Understanding Stereotypes
- Reading Standards for Literature
- RL.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.7.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.7.3 — Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
- RL.7.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.
- RL.7.5 — Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.
- RL.7.6 — Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.
- RL.7.7 — Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
- Reading Standards for Informational Text
- RI.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RI.7.2 — Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RI.7.3 — Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
- Writing Standards
- W.7.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
- W.7.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
- W.7.1.b — Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
- W.7.1.c — Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence.
- W.7.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Speaking and Listening Standards
- SL.7.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- Language Standards
- L.7.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
- Read and annotate the “Why This Unit?” and “Essential Questions” portion of the unit plan.
- Read and annotate the text with essential questions in mind.
- Take unit assessment. Focus on questions 1, 5 (graphic novel features); 2, 6, 9 (symbolism); 3, 10 (theme); and 4, 8 (point of view). Write the mastery response to the essay question.
- Unit plan lessons that align directly with test:
- Lessons 4, 11 (graphic novel features)
- Lessons 6, 10 (symbolism)
- Lessons 3, 12 (theme)
- Lessons 5, 11 (point of view)
- Lessons 1, 2, 12 (essential questions)
- Lesson 7 (inferiority complex)
- Lesson 8 (essay question prompt)
- Why do stereotypes exist? Are they ever accurate? What is the connection between stereotypes and racism/sexism? How do stereotypes interfere with one’s ability to attain the American Dream?
- What is the identity crisis many children of immigrants face when growing up in the United States?
- How does one construct his own identity when he is caught between very different cultures? Is cultural identity separate from personal identity or are they mixed together?
- How does the author Gene Luen Yang try to redefine what it means to look American in this graphic novel?
Content Knowledge and Connections
Monkey King Legend
- onomatopoeia (p. 17)
- inferiority complex (p. 55)
- psychological vs. physical transformation (root: PSYCH-)
- alter ego
Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots
- prerequisite (p. 10, root: PRE-)
- immortality (p. 10, root: IM-)
- anticipation (p. 13)
- pledge (p. 14)
- sovereign (p. 14)
- parable (p. 23)
- forfeit (p. 29)
- sage (p. 60)
- infamous (p. 61)
- frankly (p. 62)
- invulnerability (p. 57)
- pitiable/pity (p. 77)
- paranoid (p. 94)
- emissary (p. 215)
- vice (p. 217)
- petty (p. 219)
- conscience (p. 221)
- signpost (p. 221)
- visceral (interview with Gene Luen Yang)
Idioms and Cultural References
- “he was beside himself” (p. 13)
Writing Focus Areas
Students will work on dissecting the prompt by breaking it into parts in order to fully grasp what it is asking before starting their outlining and drafting pages. They will focus on fine-tuning their introductions with a clear thesis statement that answers the prompt directly and previews reasons that will be addressed in the body paragraphs. They will also work on varying their transitions in order to enhance the flow of the entire essay. Importantly, students will work on providing accurate evidence to support their claims and then analyzing the diction in that evidence in order to explain how the evidence supports the thesis of the essay.
Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area
- Stated their claim and previewed reasons that accurately support the claim
- Got their readers to care by including a cool fact or jazzy question about topic
- Introduction matches the organization of the body paragraphs
- Interested readers in their argument and helped them to understand the backstory through purposeful word choice
W.1b, d (elaboration)
- Supported their claim by giving at least three accurate reasons/examples and information to support their reasons, perhaps from a text, their knowledge, or their life, that were parallel and did not overlap
- Discussed and explained the way that the evidence supported the claim in at least two sentences
- Put reasons in an order that would be most convincing
- Provided context for evidence/introduced quotations
- Made choices about how to angle evidence to support main points
- Consistently used transitions in order to introduce new body paragraphs, evidence, and explanation, and used transitions within explanation when appropriate
- Used transitions to lead readers across parts of the text and to relate to earlier parts (despite this, as stated earlier, by doing so, etc.)
- Understanding Stereotypes
Students will familiarize themselves with the concept of stereotypes in relation to the text and personal experiences.
- “One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang”
Students will analyze why the author opted for a graphic novel rather than a conventional novel or film to tell his story.
- American Born Chinese pg. 1 — 20
Students will be able to analyze the theme of racial identity and acceptance in the introduction of the graphic novel.
- American Born Chinese pg. 43 — 52
Students will be able to explain the symbolism of Chin-Kee’s character.
- American Born Chinese pg. 55 — 84
Students will be able to analyze the Monkey King’s inferiority complex.
- American Born Chinese pg. 87 — 106
Students will be able to analyze how each character copes with his or her race in a predominantly white community.
Students will be able to analyze how the author manipulates the structure to develop the plot.
- American Born Chinese pg. 109 — 130
Students will analyze whether American Born Chinese reifies stereotypes.
Students will take a stance on whether the book should or should not be banned from schools.
- American Born Chinese pg. 163 — 198
Students will be able to analyze the climax.
Students will be able to explain how the external and internal conflicts lead to the climax.
- American Born Chinese pg. 201 — 233
- Shepard Fairey: Are Greater than Fear
- Shepard Fairey: Defend Dignity
- Shepard Fairey: Protect Each Other
Students will be able to analyze the resolution of the book.
Students will analyze Jin’s alter ego, Danny.
Students will be able to explain how the author resolves Danny’s internal conflict.
Students will analyze why the author put “American” first in the title American Born Chinese.