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The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island

The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island

by Laurence Yep, Kathleen S. Yep

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Did you want to go to America?
Pop: Sure. I didn’t have a choice. My father said I had to go. So I went.
Were you sad when you left your village?
Pop: Maybe a little . . . well, maybe a lot.

Ten-year-old Gim Lew Yep knows that he must leave his home in China and travel to America with the father who is a stranger to him. Gim Lew doesn’


Did you want to go to America?
Pop: Sure. I didn’t have a choice. My father said I had to go. So I went.
Were you sad when you left your village?
Pop: Maybe a little . . . well, maybe a lot.

Ten-year-old Gim Lew Yep knows that he must leave his home in China and travel to America with the father who is a stranger to him. Gim Lew doesn’t want to leave behind everything that he’s ever known. But he is even more scared of disappointing his father. He uses his left hand, rather than the “correct” right hand; he stutters; and most of all, he worries about not passing the strict immigration test administered at Angel Island.

The Dragon’s Child is a touching portrait of a father and son and their unforgettable journey from China to the land of the Golden Mountain. It is based on actual conversations between two-time Newbery Honor author Laurence Yep and his father and on research on his family’s immigration history by his niece, Dr. Kathleen Yep.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 8 to 12.

Newbery Honor winner Laurence Yep is legendary for his Chinese American narratives; he breathes life and depth into stories many readers only experience in history books. In The Dragons Child, Yep teams up with his niece, Dr. Kathleen Yep, to tell the story of ten-year-old Gim Lew, who must leave China and move to America with his father. Will he pass the difficult tests administered by the officials of Angel Island? Will he find a new home and friends in America? The Dragons Child is partly autobiographical. Yep based the novel on conversations with his father and research relating to his family's immigration history conducted by his niece. Readers who have enjoyed Yep's previous novels will find this new work fascinating. The Dragons Child is a wonderful addition to the Yep canon, as well as to the field of children's literature. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D.

School Library Journal

Gr 3-6- Based on conversations with his father and hundreds of pages of family interviews from the archives at Angel Island, Yep's story tells of his father's trip to America. In 1922, 10-year-old Gim Lew Yep is horrified to learn that he is to accompany his father when he returns and must prepare for the interview at Angel Island, an intensive examination about the minute details of his village and family in China. A nervous child, Gim always forgets to use his right hand instead of his left, and, worst of all, he stutters when he's anxious. Furthermore, he is heartsick over leaving his home and family. Told in Gim's very convincing voice, the tale captures the profound loss he feels at leaving his home as well as his determination to make his father proud of him. Though the book is easy to read, it is more complex than Li Keng Wong's Good Fortune: My Journey to Gold Mountain (Peachtree, 2006), another story for the same age group. Yep raises many issues about both Chinese immigration and the immigrant experience in general: Who am I? Where do I belong? How can I balance the duality of my life? Why do people treat others this way? The photograph of Gim Lew in his Western clothes shows a very real sadness and anxiety that are common to anyone leaving family and country behind as they journey to a new life, and Yep captures this beautifully in this brief fictionalized account.-Barbara Scotto, Children's Literature New England, Brookline, MA

Kirkus Reviews
Historian Kathleen S. Yep teams with her uncle Laurence to craft a compelling tale based on transcripts of his father's 1922 immigration interview. The Yeps relate the harrowing experiences of ten-year-old Gim Lew, who, after crossing the Pacific with his father, is interned on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, where he must submit to lengthy detailed interviews about his home, village and neighbors, in order to prove he is who he claims to be. To pass this detailed interrogation, he has conscientiously studied a family book containing specifics about his home: How many windows in your house? How many steps? How are the houses in your village arranged?, etc. To enter "The Golden Mountain," he must answer the questions perfectly, leaving no room for doubt by the immigration officers. The boy's frustration and anxiety rise from the page, as does this particularly xenophobic and unjust moment in U.S. history. Fiction based on facts and the authors' smooth narration vividly evoke the past and its inhabitants. (author's note, photos, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Dragon's Child
A Story of Angel Island

Chapter One

The Secret

Question: What was life like in China?
Pop: When I was little, I used my left hand and not my right. So I got hit for using the wrong hand. And that kind of made me nervous, and when that happened I stuttered a little bit. That made people even madder.

March 7, 1922
Ninth day of the second month,
eleventh year of the Chinese Republic
Lung Hing Village, Southern China

My father was a dragon. Lung Gon was his name. And he came from a village of dragons.

But I wasn't the least bit like him.

When I forgot myself, I naturally used my left hand. I kept forgetting to use my right hand. That was the correct one.

There were a lot of practical reasons for me to use my right hand. For one thing, I wouldn't bump whoever sat next to me at the dinner table and make him drop his rice bowl. Some superstitious folk thought left-handed people were sneaky. A few even swore it brought bad luck when you used your left hand.

But when I used my right hand, I had trouble writing. My brushstrokes went all over the page. When I used my left hand, the words came out fine. Only I couldn't do that. I had to remind myself to use my right hand all the time.

The winter rains had let up, but the air still felt damp. Everyone felt drowsy that afternoon. The New Year's celebrations had tired our little village. Even my teacher, Uncle Jing, was droning more slowly than usual.

I thought it was safe to use my left hand to write with while Uncle Jing's back was turned. But then a fly buzzed around his head. When he twisted to swatit, he saw me.

I knew what would happen next. It was as sure to come as a sunrise, and as sure as our rooster crowing at that sunrise.

"You must always write with your right hand!" Uncle Jing scolded in his shrill voice. "You're the son and brother of Guests! Do you think any of them do such an awful thing?" He always taught with a bamboo rod in his hand. It began to twitch eagerly, like a dog's tail.

No one ever let me forget that I was the son of a Guest of the Golden Mountain—or America, as the people there called it.

Most of the time I spoke clearly. But when I got nervous, I stuttered sometimes. Before I recited a lesson, I always rehearsed it like an actor. And I had to keep telling myself to stay calm. However, I would get so worried that I stammered even more.

If I stuttered at school, my classmates would laugh and Uncle would get mad and hit me. If I did it at home, Mother would scold me. Sister would look disappointed and tell me to try harder.

I had finally gotten to meet my father two years earlier, when I was seven. He had brought my older brother Yuen home to get married. Father had told me at that time that I shouldn't stutter anymore. But it seemed the more I tried not to think about stammering, the more my tongue tripped. Even though my father and Yuen had gone back to America, I still tried to obey him.

"I'm s-s-sorry," I barely managed to say to Uncle. "I f-f-forgot."

The rest of the class rocked back and forth with laughter. Of all the students, I was the only pupil from my clan, even though the school was our village's. My brothers and cousins had all left to find work overseas. The five other students came from neighboring villages. Two of them didn't own desks, so they sat on the dirt floor.

"What did your father tell you about stuttering and using your left hand?" he huffed.

I didn't say anything. I didn't trust my tongue.

Uncle Jing answered his own question. "He'll blame me when you're the one being stubborn and willful. One stroke!" The bamboo tipped in a slow circle, as if Uncle was loosening up his arm. "Put out your hand."

I heard a commotion from one end of the village. Uncle and the rest of the class were too involved with anticipating the beating to notice.

Miserable, I extended my hand across the desk. Over many years, the wood had soaked up the fragrance of all the ink spilled on it. The desk belonged to my family. At the end of the term, old Dip Shew would have to carry it home to our house. He was a poor cousin we had hired to take care of our fields.

Uncle's fingers brushed the back of my neck. He was still used to reaching for a boy's queue. In the old days when the savage Manchus had taken over China, they made all Chinese males wear their hair in long queues. The queues were a symbol of the tails of the horses the Manchus had ridden when they conquered us. Now that the Manchus had been driven away, we didn't have to wear our hair long. Now there wasn't anything to grab.

I made the mistake of smiling.

"Five more for being insolent!" Uncle yelled.


The bamboo rod swished through the air. The pain lashed my hand, but I bit my lip. The other boys were grinning. I couldn't expect any sympathy from them. They always liked it when I got punished, even though I had never done anything to them. They disliked me because my family was rich from the money Father and my brothers sent home.


Uncle hit me even harder this time. I think he wanted to see tears.

I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.


My sister appeared in the doorway. "Excuse me," she said. Sister was eleven years older than me and had practically raised me; Mother had been busy with all our family affairs. "Father's home."

The Dragon's Child
A Story of Angel Island
. Copyright (c) by Laurence Yep . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Laurence Yep is the acclaimed author of more than sixty books for young people and a winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. His illustrious list of novels includes the Newbery Honor Books Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate; The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee; and The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island, which he cowrote with his niece, Dr. Kathleen S. Yep, and was named a New York Public Library's "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing" and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book.

Mr. Yep grew up in San Francisco, where he was born. He attended Marquette University, graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and received his PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He lives in Pacific Grove, California, with his wife, the writer Joanne Ryder.

Dr. Kathleen S. Yep is an assistant professor of Asian American studies and sociology at Pitzer College, which is a member of the Claremont Colleges in Southern California. She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. This is her first book for children. She lives in San Gabriel, California.

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