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Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

by Paula Yoo, Lin Wang

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Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family's laundry in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie


Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family's laundry in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie star!

Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Anna May made the most of each limited part. She worked hard and always gave her best performance. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors.

Anna May Wong—the first Chinese American movie star—was a pioneer of the cinema. Her spirited determination in the face of discrimination is an inspiration to all who must overcome obstacles so that their dreams may come true.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Yoo (Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds) spotlights a famous Chinese-American actress from the golden days of Hollywood. Growing up poor in Los Angeles's Chinatown, Anna May Wong was fascinated with the local movie scene. "She regularly skipped school to watch the action on the set and ask questions about filmmaking." Lin Wang's (A Single Red Thread) elegant paintings in muted hues capture the actress's emotions in her expressive eyes framed by dark bangs. Full-page spreads showcase her stylish garb-snazzy flapper attire or traditional Chinese dress-and her early-20th-century surroundings. The conversational narrative uses many descriptive vignettes from her life (e.g., a girlhood visit to the movie theater, a trip to China) to briskly move the story from her youth to her early movie career. Peppered throughout are examples of the racism she experienced ("Movie studios forbade actors and actresses of color to kiss their white costars"). Always countering these are Anna May's responses, at first her strong feelings and, later, her decision to only portray roles that didn't denigrate Chinese-Americans. A fascinating account of the life of a determined actress. Ages 6-11. (June)

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Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Yoo tells the story of Chinese American actress Anna May Wong in detail beginning with her childhood in Los Angeles Chinatown. Anna May daydreams as the whole family toils in her father's laundry. Movies are her source of dreams, as white children taunt her. Although Chinese society looks down on actresses, her father allows her to take the part of an extra in a movie. When she begins to get bigger roles, she is upset by the prejudice against her race and the stereotypical characters she must portray. Although she is attractive and gets good parts abroad, in Hollywood she faces continued prejudice. After she visits China, proud of her heritage, she determines to play only authentic roles. She is finally given realistic, sympathetic parts. Wang's naturalistic watercolor and acrylic paintings focus on major events in the lengthy text. We see the laundry where Wong worked as a child; a film being shot in a Chinatown setting; a glamour photo session; a loving encounter with her father, etc. The biography is believably animated; emotions clearly portrayed. Yoo has illuminated a little-known chapter of racial prejudice in filmmaking along with the life of a pioneer. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-Although Wong’s days were filled with backbreaking work as she helped in her family’s San Francisco Chinese laundry, her daydreams were replete with visions of life as a film star. Anna saw every movie she could, and eventually, despite her parents’ opposition, she became a movie extra. As a young woman in the 1920s, beautiful and unusually tall, she was given supporting roles, but, distressed by the stereotypical characters Chinese actors were forced to portray, she decided to pursue her career in Europe. When she returned to Hollywood in 1935, she discovered that nothing had changed. After a visit to China, Wong returned to the U.S. with a renewed determination to eliminate the old Asian stereotypes that had become film standards. Her efforts yielded her some wonderful roles and helped open doors for other Asian-American actors. This is an excellent introduction to a one-time celeb little known to today’s children. Yoo explains Wong’s circumstances with clarity and portrays her hardships and triumphs in concise, easy-to-follow prose. Lin Wang’s acrylic and watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to the well-written text, precise in their realistic detail and particularly adept in their portrayal of both facial expressions and textures. They provide a vivid portrait of Wong’s changing lifestyles, from that of her impoverished childhood surroundings to the elegant luxuries that her fame made possible. Readers will be entranced by the actress’s rags-to-riches story, and her efforts at confronting racial discrimination will resonate with all ethnic minorities. An author’s note fleshes out the biography, making this afine choice for both school and public libraries.–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
Kirkus Reviews
The first Chinese-American movie star grew up in Los Angeles's Chinatown, working in her family's laundry, going to the movies every chance she got and even skipping school to watch the action on a local movie set. She went from an extra to a star, even though the roles she was given were often stereotypical, from "china doll" to "dragon lady." When she visited China for the first time, after her parents had retired there, she vowed to fight the stereotypes. Wang's watercolor-and-acrylic pictures are sometimes quite lovely set pieces, like a graceful adult Anna May with floral hat and tea cup, but are too often static tableaux in which the figures seem unrelated to one another and to the space they occupy. Yoo's earnest text illuminates the actress's life and times (she made more than 50 films before her death in 1961), but without much energy or engagement. The author's note does not clarify whether the quoted dialogue is invented or actual. (sources) (Picture book/biography. 7-12)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
11.00(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
970L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 Years

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