Coolies

Overview

Shek marvels at the new world as he and his brother, Little Wong, arrive in California. Along with hundreds of other workers, the brothers are going to build a great railroad across the West. They plan to save enough money so that their mother and little brothers can join them in America. But as days grow into months, they endure many hardships-exhausting work, discrimination, and treacherous avalanches. Inspired by actual events, this story reveals the harsh truth about life for the Chinese railroad workers in ...
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Overview

Shek marvels at the new world as he and his brother, Little Wong, arrive in California. Along with hundreds of other workers, the brothers are going to build a great railroad across the West. They plan to save enough money so that their mother and little brothers can join them in America. But as days grow into months, they endure many hardships-exhausting work, discrimination, and treacherous avalanches. Inspired by actual events, this story reveals the harsh truth about life for the Chinese railroad workers in 1865, while celebrating their perseverance and bravery.

Author Biography:

A young boy hears the story of his great-great-great-grandfather and his brother who came to the United States to make a better life for themselves helping to build the transcontinental railroad.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"In an impressive debut, Yin illumines a dark corner of American history-the monumental labor of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad," wrote PW. Ages 5-up. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an impressive debut, Yin illuminates a dark corner of American history--the monumental labor of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad. "Look, Little Wong, this is the land of opportunity!" cries Shek to his brother when their difficult sea voyage ends in San Francisco. Soon, however, the boys discover a harsher reality as they face discrimination and derision, particularly from the tyrannical railroad bosses who call them "coolies." The brothers toil under exhausting and often dangerous conditions (because they are small, they are made to set the dynamite for tunnels through the Sierras), and join their fellow laborers in a strike when they learn that non-Chinese workers are being paid more. The strike fails, work continues and, in a final insult, everyone but the Chinese are invited to the celebration of the meeting of the Eastern and Western rail lines in Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. "Call us what you will, it is our hands that helped build the railroad," says Shek, with the even tones and spare dignity that characterize Yin's exposition. Soentpiet (Where Is Grandpa?) floods his crowded compositions with exaggerated sunlight, candlelight, firelight, etc., throwing his palette into theatrical, overdone shades; this approach, unfortunately, works against Yin's restraint and balance. The tale ends on an upbeat note as the brothers establish a bright future in San Francisco; a framing device that links the story to the present day shores up its relevance for contemporary readers. Ages 5-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This story of two brothers who came to America from China and helped build the transcontinental railroad begins and ends in the present time, framed as a story told by a grandmother to her grandson while they honor their ancestors during the Ching Ming Festival. Famine and poverty in their Chinese village sent Shek and Wong across the ocean in 1865 to work for the Central Pacific Railroad, laying track from California to Utah. They were part of a primarily Chinese labor force that performed back-breaking and often dangerous work in conditions ranging from blistering sun to raging snowstorms, all for less pay than their non-Chinese counterparts. Throughout, Shek and Wong faithfully send money to China to keep their family alive and are eventually able to send them passage to America. Soentpiet's watercolors capture both the small details of facial expression and the large panoramas being traversed by workers who cart, hammer and blast. Most young people today are unfamiliar with the word coolie and will not bring to it the negative connotations held by earlier generations. Coolie translates as "bitter labor," and Yin's book serves to imbue the word with respect and dignity. 2001, Philomel, . Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Susan Stan
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-When the western line of the transcontinental railroad joined the eastern line at Promontory Point, UT, in 1869, the engraving commemorating the event left out an important group of workers-the Chinese. Derisively called "coolies" by their white overseers, these refugees from Southern China came to California desperate for any work that would help them feed their starving families back home. This picture book, cast as a story told by a modern Chinese grandmother, transforms the familiar ethnic slur into a badge of honor. Large double spreads, reminiscent of epic murals, portray the perilous adventures of two brothers, Shek and Wong. After bidding their mother good-bye on the dock, they endure cramped quarters in a stormy passage across the Pacific to arrive at "The Land of Opportunity." Soentpiet's art, consistently amplifying the text, provides an ironic counterpoint, showing dazed Chinese disembarking while hostile white men stare. Subsequent scenes, painted in vivid yellows, oranges, and deep blues, dramatize the achievements of these slight, tough workers who ply sledgehammers under a blazing sun, set dynamite charges, and brave freezing temperatures and avalanches to lay track over high mountain peaks. The callousness of the railroad bosses, who pay the Chinese less than their white counterparts and starve them out of a strike, is contrasted with the devotion of the two brothers, tenderly depicted in art and text. An informative author's note is appended. Soentpiet's impassioned paintings add new emotional resonance to the heroic saga of despised immigrants whose heroism matched the towering mountains of the west.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As a boy and his grandmother celebrate the Ching Ming Festival, a holiday honoring one's ancestors, the grandmother tells the story of her great-grandfather, Shek, who came from China to California in 1865 to work on the transcontinental railroad. Shek and his little brother Wong endured the two-month trip to America and immediately signed up with the Central Pacific Railroad Company to work as laborers. The Chinese workers, known derogatorily as"coolies," from a Chinese word meaning"bitter labor," were paid less than their European counterparts and were often given the most dangerous jobs, those involving explosives, for example, and were forced to work in terrible weather conditions. (The author's note informs the reader that thousands of Chinese laborers died while working on the railroad.) Shek and the other Chinese workers tried to stand up for themselves by staging a strike, but were forced to back down before any of their demands were met. Even when the railroad's completion is celebrated, the importance of the Chinese laborers is ignored. After four years on the railroad, Shek and Wong used their earnings to open a store in San Francisco and eventually brought the rest of their family over to the US. Soentpiet's signature glowing watercolors bathe the images with light. The pictures of big scenes—the teeming shipyard, the crowded living quarters on the ship, a campfire surrounded by snow-covered mountains, a busy San Francisco street—are striking and grand. The design—each double-page spread laid out with ¾ of the page as illustration while the ¼ on the left holds the text in a box—allows for a fuller view of the sweeping scenes. This is animportantstory,full of drama and emotion and it is here given its proper recognition and tribute in both words and glorious art. Perhaps it will encourage other grandparents to share their family history as well. Masterful. (Picture book. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399232275
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 1,443,062
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 12.30 (w) x 10.06 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Yin lives in Queens, New York.
At the age of eight, I was adopted with my older sister from Korea to live with an American family in Hawaii. When I was 22 years old, I had the opportunity to visit my Korean brother and sisters for the first time since I was adopted . It was a happy reunion. (A book about my adoption will be released in due course.) More about my background can be found in several newspaper publications such as the Daily News and the New York Newsday.

I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I studied Advertising, Illustrations, Graphic Design and Art Education. But painting has always been my passion.

With encouragement and guidance from my good friend, author and illustrator, Ted Lewin, I took my portfolio along with some original paintings around New York City. The first ten publishers I visited did not have work for me until I stepped into the office of Lothrop, Lee & Shephard (acquired by: Harper-Collins Publishers). They have given me my first opportunity to illustrate and author my first children's picture book, Around Town.

My books reflect my interest in people, history and its culture. As with all my historical books, researching at the library plays an important role in illustrating the accuracy of the details I paint into each spread. After researching is complete, I hire models to play the parts of the main characters. Using models allows me to achieve a realistic and consistent look from page to page. Based on my research, I have to make the costumes if necessary. I also act as the model's hairdresser and makeup artist. Once I have taken the photographs, I'll use it as a tool to help me during the painting process. This order resembles much of my idol, whom I like to think of myself as an incarnation of the infamous Norman Rockwell.

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