In 1926, 12-year-old Fu Lee lives with his grandparents in a small village in China. He lives with his grandparents because his parents are dead. It is a difficult life but made easier by the love Lee shares with his grandparents. But now Lee must leave all that he knows. Before his parents died, they spent all of their money buying a "paper son slot" for Lee to go to America. Being a "paper son" means pretending to be the son of a family already in America. If he goes, he will have the chance for a better life. ...
In 1926, 12-year-old Fu Lee lives with his grandparents in a small village in China. He lives with his grandparents because his parents are dead. It is a difficult life but made easier by the love Lee shares with his grandparents. But now Lee must leave all that he knows. Before his parents died, they spent all of their money buying a "paper son slot" for Lee to go to America. Being a "paper son" means pretending to be the son of a family already in America. If he goes, he will have the chance for a better life. But first he must pass the test at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. Only then will he be allowed to live with his new family. If Lee makes even a single mistake, he could be sent back to China. Lee knows his grandparents want a better life for him. He can't let them down.
In 1926, Wang Lee is forced to leave his beloved grandparents in China and travel alone to America as a paper son. His grandparents have paid a fee from their meager savings and, like many boys before him, Lee is to pretend to be the son of a family already in Gum Saan (California). Before the journey, Lee must study from his coaching book and memorize all the details of Fu Ming's life and residence. The journey is long and lonely with his coaching book never far from his side. When he reaches Angel's Island, there will be a test and he must not shame his family by failing and being returned to China. At Angel's Island he waits many weeks until the inspectors call for him and grill him for several hours. His name is now Fu Lee, son of Fu Ming. After many questions, he is tired and confused but is hopeful he has answered all correctly. As he explains in his own words, "I did not want to come but now I need to stay." Finally, the boy is taken to meet his new father. He walks proudly toward his future and his chance to make his family proud. So many Chinese immigrants lived the story of Wang Lee that it is important to make young people aware of the sacrifices made in search of a better life in America. The design of the book is exceptional, with muted watercolors and a rich ecru paper as background for the text. The range of emotions experienced by Wang Lee and his grandmother Popo are etched on their faces and deeply felt by the reader. This exquisitely-told lyrical tale is one of heartache and hope. Easterners should realize that Angel Island is Ellis Island's western counterpart, with just as many bittersweet stories. This is one of them. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Lee, 12, lives with his grandparents. His parents have died, but it was their wish that he go to America for better opportunities. In 1926, conditions are difficult in China, and the boy's loving grandparents sadly agree that leaving would be the best thing for him. Immigration laws restrict Chinese people from entering the United States, so Lee's family purchased a "paper son" slot for him. A Chinese man already living in America will say that Lee is his son to get him into the country. As Wang Lee becomes Fu Lee, he must learn minute details about his new family in order to pass the interrogations at the Angel Island Immigration Station. While often called the "Ellis Island" of the west, Angel Island was often about stopping immigrants rather than welcoming them. People could spend weeks, months, or even years there, waiting to pass the tests or appealing deportation rulings. Since being a "paper son" was illegal, secrecy was paramount. The story concentrates on Lee's feelings about traveling alone to America, staying on Angel Island, and navigating the questioning. Failure would mean deportation, giving up the chance to help his grandparents, and losing the money his family paid. Large-scale illustrations, full-page and two-page bleeds, realistically portray the time and place and will help young readers with context. The authors provide a helpful summary of Angel Island history. Use with Milly Lee's Landed (Farrar, 2006) and Laurence Yep's Dragon Child (HarperCollins, 2008) to give young readers a fascinating glimpse into this elusive chapter of American history.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
The journey from China to the United States and the experience on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay are fraught with anxiety and peril for 12-year-old Wang Lee. In order to gain admittance, he takes the "paper son" name Fu Lee, taking the place of someone whose records had burnt in the 1906 earthquake and fire. If he does not pass the examination on Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West), he will be returned to China. Like many hopeful emigrants, he has carefully memorized each small detail in a "coaching book": the number of windows in "his" house, its location vis-à-vis neighbors and other minutiae of another family's home in China. The entire experience is expensive and traumatic, and waiting in the barracks on Angel Island is tiresome, strange and frightening, all at once. To lose family, name and everything else that one knows takes a brave person, desperate for the opportunity that Gum Saam can provide. Fu Lee meets these demands in a book that clearly shows the boy and his fears and hopes. Ong's paintings of place and persons make the journey, setting and experience come alive. Backmatter on Angel Island provides historical context. An effective and empathetic depiction of the Angel Island experience. (Picture book. 8-12)