Dragonwings: A Playby Laurence Yep
At the turn of the century, a young boy living in China with his mother, travels to San Francisco, California, "Land of the Golden Mountain," to be with his father, Windrider, a kite maker who immigrated there a few years earlier to take advantage of the West Coast's booming expansionism. Now a laundryman, Windrider hopes to save enough money to bring his entire family over to the United States, but as his son Moon Shadow discovers, Windrider's heart really lies in his dream of building a flying machine like that of the Wright brothers. Spurred on by the conviction that he was once a dragon in a former incarnation, Windrider tinkers in his makeshift workshop, building model after model of seemingly magical flying machines, much to the wonderment of Moon Shadow. Surviving in the western world, however, demands that more crucial lessons be learned. There are racists attacks by angry San Francisco natives who resent the ever-increasing presence of the Chinese; there are tensions between Moon Shadow and the father he hardly knows; and eventually, father and son will face the devastation of the 1906 earthquake which destroys their home and forces even more grueling trials upon them. Through it all, and with the help of two Americans who believe in them, Windrider and Moon Shadow do build their flying machine and forge a deeper relationship. The results of their labor, though, will ultimately force Windrider to make a courageous decision about his and his family's future in the West.
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Ever since I can remember, I had wanted to know about the Land of the Golden Mountain, but my mother had never wanted to talk about it. All I knew was that a few months before I was born, my father had left our home in the Middle Kingdom, or China, as the white demons call it, and traveled over the sea to work in the demon land. There was plenty of money to be made among the demons, but it was also dangerous. My own grandfather had been lynched about thirty years before by a mob of white demons almost the moment he had set foot on their shores.
Mother usually said she was too busy to answer my questions. It was a fact that she was overworked, for Grandmother was too old to help her with the heavy work, and she had to try to do both her own work and Father's on our small farm. The rice had to be grown from seeds, and the seedlings transplanted to the paddies, and the paddies tended and harvested. Besides this, she always had to keep one eye on our very active pig to keep him from rooting in our small vegetable patch. She also had to watch our three chickens, who loved to wander away from our farm.
Any time I brought up the subject of the Golden Mountain, Mother suddenly found something going wrong on our farm. Maybe some seedlings had not been planted into their underwater beds properly, or perhaps our pig was eating the wrong kind of garbage, or maybe one of our chickens was dirtying our doorway. She always had some good excuse for not talking about the Golden Mountain. I knew she was afraid of the place, because every chance we got, she would take me into the small temple in our villageand we would pray for Father's safety, though she would never tell me what she was afraid of. It was a small satisfaction to her that our prayers had worked so far. Mother was never stingy about burning incense for Father.
I was curious about the Land of the Golden Mountain mainly because my father was there. I had, of course, never seen my father. And we could not go to live with him for two reasons. For one thing, the white demons would not let wives join their husbands on the Golden Mountain because they did not want us settling there permanently. And for another thing, our own clans discouraged wives from leaving because it would mean an end to the money the husbands sent home to their familiesmoney which was then spent in the Middle Kingdom. The result was that the wives stayed in the villages, seeing their husbands every five years or so if they were lucky though sometimes there were longer separations, as with Mother and Father.
We had heavy debts to pay off, including the cost of Father's ticket. And Mother and Grandmother had decided to invest the money Father sent to us in buying more land and livestock. At any rate, there was no money to spare for Father's visit back home. But my mother never complained about the hard work or the loneliness. As she said, we were the people of the Tang, by which she meant we were a tough, hardy, patient race. (We did not call ourselves Chinese, but the people of the Tang, after that famous dynasty that had helped settle our area some eleven hundred years ago. It would be the same as if an English demon called himself a man of the Tudors, the dynasty of Henry VIII and of Elizabeth Ithough demon names sound so drab compared to ours.)
But sometimes Mother's patience wore thin. It usually happened when we walked over to the small side room in the Temple, where classes were also held. Like many other people, Mother and Grandmother could neither read nor write; but for a small fee, the village schoolmaster would read one of Father's weekly letters to us or write a letter at our dictation. In the evening after dinner, we would join the line of people who had a husband or brothers or sons overseas. There we would wait until it was our turn to go inside the Temple, and Mother would nervously turn the letter over and over again in her hands until Grandmother would tell her she was going to wear out the letter before we could read it.
To tell the truth, I knew as little about my father as I knew about the Land of the Golden Mountain. But Mother made sure that I knew at least one important thing about him: He was a maker of the most marvelous kites. Everyone in the village said he was a master of his craft, and his kites were often treasured by their owners like family heirlooms. As soon as I was big enough to hold the string, Mother took me out to the hill near our village where we could fly one of Father's kites. Just the two of us would go.
But you won't appreciate my father's skill if you think flying a kiteany kind of a kiteis just putting a bunch of paper and sticks up into the air. I remember the first time we went to fly a kite. There was nothing like the thrill when my kite first leaped up out of Mother's hands into the air. Then she showed me how to pull and tug and guide the kite into the winds. And when the winds caught the kite, it shot upward. She told me then how the string in my hand was like a leash and the kite was like a hound that I had sent hunting, to flush a sunbeam or a stray phoenix out of the clouds.
Meet the Author
Laurence Yep grew up in San Francisco, where he was born. He attended Marquette University, was graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He lives in Pacific Grove, California, with his wife, writer Joanne Ryder. Mr. Yep is one of children's literature's most respected authors and a recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his body of work. His novels include Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate, both Newbery Honor Books. He is also the author of Sweetwater; When the Circus Came to Town; The Imp That Ate My Homework, winner of the Georgia Children's Book Award; The Magic Paintbrush; and The Earth Dragon Awakes. The author of numerous other books for children and young adults, Mr. Yep has taught creative writing and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Barbara. In 1990 he received an NEA fellowship in fiction.
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