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My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

Overview

Chinatown — a place of dragons and dreams; fireflies and memories

Chinatown — full of wonder and magic; fireworks on New Year's Day and a delicious smell on every corner

Chinatown — where every day brings something familiar and something wondrously new to a small boy

Chinatown — home?

Kam Mak grew up in a...

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Overview

Chinatown — a place of dragons and dreams; fireflies and memories

Chinatown — full of wonder and magic; fireworks on New Year's Day and a delicious smell on every corner

Chinatown — where every day brings something familiar and something wondrously new to a small boy

Chinatown — home?

Kam Mak grew up in a place of two cultures, one existing within the other. Using extraordinarily beautiful paintings and moving poems, he shares a year of growing up in this small city within a city, which is called Chinatown.

A boy adjusts to life away from his home in Hong Kong, in the Chinatown of his new American city.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Kam Mak grew up in New York's Chinatown, and his memories of it bring a distinctly personal quality to this combination of free verse and luminous art. Told from the point of view of a young boy recently arrived from Hong Kong, the poems begin with Chinese New Year, when "the air dances with scraps of red, a snowfall the color of luck." Our young storyteller feels that the luck cannot be his because Chinatown isn't home. As the year progresses, he finds that his new home has links to the old, as well as surprises that become new favorites. Mak's paintings bring us into the boy's point of view at the same time that they reveal strong images of life in Chinatown. We see the old fortuneteller, the bird shop "where it sounds like the woods in spring," and the lanterns of the Moon Festival. Mak's art is both graphic, with strong color and spare perspective, and detailed. Portraits are beautifully rendered and speak to the culture and lives of their subjects. As the year ends with a new celebration, the joy that is life in this boy's Chinatown is apparent. The author is an experienced illustrator with a number of noteworthy books to his credit; My Chinatown is his first offering as author and illustrator. Teachers will find this book a useful tool for exploring the culture of life in immigrant Chinese communities and a lovely example of memoir. 2002, HarperCollins, $16.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Anne Field
From The Critics
Highly regarded illustrator, Kam Mak's picture book, My Chinatown: One Year in Poems, is an extraordinarily beautiful introduction to life in New York's Chinatown. Here be dragons and fireworks, kumquats and cobbler's benches, all seen through a small boy's eyes. The illustrations are meticulously detailed—realistic, narrative paintings, strong in the vibrant reds, yellows, and greens common in East Asian traditional dress and art. The frequently off-center and oddly-angled paintings glow with Hopper-like slants of light, inviting readers to participate in their activity. On New Year's Day morning, a small boy newly arrived from Hong Kong kicks through drifts of confetti paper petals on an inner-city street. We look down at him from above, seeing his small dark head, his foreshortened body and jaunty sneakers forming a roughly equilateral triangle with a fireplug and a manhole cover. The words tell us "Somewhere there will be one whole firecracker/ hidden, waiting for me." In spring, a brilliantly white shirted man holds a bird in a bamboo cage on the palm of his hand as if it were a plate of hors d'oeuvres. His face is slightly flushed and luminous, perhaps with perspiration. It seems to be midday. A large, green Thermos bottle on his right completes the picture of this strange visual lunch. The poem reminds us that "Long ago, you had to be rich/ to have your own music/ caught in a cage" and that in "this bird shop/ in the middle of Chinatown/ it sounds/ like the woods in spring." Summer brings bright, comically painted dragon boats racing across the lake in Queens "the rowers straining/ the drums pounding,/ the watchers cheering/ and making bets." It is clothes on a clothesline strungbetween apartment house windows, the smell of "hot oil, chicken sizzling" the sound of "mahjongg tiles" slapping on a table. Fall brings the Festival of the Moon. We find the boy on the roof of his apartment building. He is wearing a red fleece sweatshirt, its luxurious warmth and softness almost palpable. He holds a yellow paper lantern that glows like the moon against the dark indigo night: "Our apartment house is drifting loose/ floating free in the night sky." Winter takes us to the arcade where "lights flash, bells ring" and a live, white chicken beats the boy in a game of tic-tac-toe. "I feed the slot every quarter I have/ just to watch her/ gobble up her winnings." A red lettered sign asks us: "She's not chicken, are you?" As the book ends, it is New Year's Day again. "Noodles for breakfast,/ sweet rice cakes,/ a red envelope stuffed with money/ in my pocket." An enormous red silk dragon grimaces in the painting, its eyes bulging, a feathering of white whiskers around its eyes and mouth. The prose-poems are accessible, highly visual, emotionally evocative with a tanka-like simplicity. The text is appropriate for seven-to nine-year-old readers and as a read-aloud for younger children. The book itself can be appreciated by all ages. There is a timelessness to the paintings. Boom boxes and palm pilots don't abide here. As the year passes, the boy learns to feel at home in this new land. He gets to know the street venders and fortunetellers, the parks and the subways, slowly making this "city within a city" his own. Kim Mak lives in New York with his wife, son, and daughter and teaches painting at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This highly recommended book is dedicated to his parents. 2001, HarperCollins, 32 pages,
— Sandra Lindow
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Children whose ideas about life in New York's Chinatown come solely from books about holiday celebrations will get a deeper glimpse from this former resident's solo debut. In four ruminative, simply phrased free-verse poems, one for each season, Mak looks back to childhood: to feeling homesick for Hong Kong, or excited by the annual Dragon Boat races; happily spoiling his appetite for dinner with fish balls purchased from a cart; and drifting off to sleep next to his mother as she does piecework on her sewing machine. There are no colorful urban street scenes or (with the exception of the Dragon Boat race) panoramic views in Mak's sober, extraordinary paintings. Instead, he focuses on individual figures-a curbside fortune-teller, a cobbler, a wide-eyed child drinking in a shop-rendered with photographic realism and placed against plain, undecorated backgrounds. The mood is generally wistful, though brightened at the end by a New Year's lion float prancing into view. The distinctly personal voice and sensibility makes this a natural companion for the more community-conscious tour in William Low's Chinatown (Holt, 1997).-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen untitled poems, handsomely illustrated with photo-realistic paintings, express the feelings of a young Chinese boy from Hong Kong as he adjusts to his new home in New York's Chinatown. Grouped by the four seasons, the poems span the time from one Chinese New Year to the next. The simplicity of language and beautiful paintings evoke poignant imagery; phrasing like "... school where English words taste like metal in my mouth" or a scene where an overhead perspective captures the boy and a girl playing chess on the floor with a cat pawing a marker, framing a tender moment. Even though the reader may not know firsthand all of the specific references-Tic-Tac-Toe-playing chicken, sidewalk cobbler, red confetti on streets from firecrackers-what comes through clearly is the boy's gradual acceptance of his new home place where daily pleasures can be enjoyed without relinquishing memories of the past. (In a different style, William Low celebrates Chinatown [1997] with darkly hued, soft-edged oil paintings depicting a boy and his grandmother walking through the streets. The two could pair nicely.) The first-person voice and strong composition of art with vivid colors symbiotically make this boy's personal emotional journey a universal experience. (Picture book/poetry. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060291907
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 794,671
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Kam Mak grew up in New York City's Chinatown. He earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts, and since then he has illustrated book jackets for numerous publishers and taught painting at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

He has also illustrated The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies by Jean Craighead George, The Year of the Panda by Miriam Schlein, and The Dragon Prince by Laurence Yep. Ham Mak lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter.

Kam Mak grew up in New York City's Chinatown. He earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts, and since then he has illustrated book jackets for numerous publishers and taught painting at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

He has also illustrated The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies by Jean Craighead George, The Year of the Panda by Miriam Schlein, and The Dragon Prince by Laurence Yep. Ham Mak lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter.

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