Editorial Review

Examiner.com Reviews "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America"

Cover: Paper Son

“Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America” by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh and illustrated by Wilson Ong is a compelling story about a 12-year-old boy from a rural Chinese village who must travel to America to provide for his family in China.

When Lee’s parents are killed by bandits, he learns that they spent all their money and borrowed even more to buy him a “paper son slot” for Lee to go to America and live with a family, work and send money home. His grandparents work to pay off the remainder of the debt — a huge amount by Chinese standards in 1926.

The narration makes it clear that Lee and his grandparents live on the edge of poverty. “Lee knew that they needed farm equipment and a new roof. He remembered nights he’d gone hungry dreaming of steamed fish with brown sauce and long noodles with chicken and bok choy.”

And although Lee really doesn’t want to leave the only family he has left, he listens as his grandmother reminds him that, “In Gum Saan, mountains are topped with gold and streets are paved with silver. Our mountains are topped with wars and our streets are paved with bandits.”

Lee must study his “coaching book,” a book filled with information about his new family. It includes the most minute details about their life; information he must memorize so that the immigration officials will believe that he is related to his new “paper” family.

Lee studies hard and every night his grandfather quizzes him on the details. “How many windows are in the Fu house?” When Lee makes a mistake, his grandfather reminds him how important this is. If he fails to convince the authorities that he is the Fu’s son, they will lose the money and he will be deported.

The story follows Lee as he crosses the ocean and ends up in San Francisco. The passengers on the ship take a boat to Angel Island Immigration Station. There they will be given a physical exam and tested to make sure they are related to an American.

This book teaches readers about the promise of a new country and the lengths that people — young and old — were willing take to get there. The last page is about the history of Angel Island and the immigrants who entered America from the Pacific Ocean.

This picture book is for older readers. The themes (immigration, war, poverty, role playing) are perfect for third and fourth graders studying communities and the history of America.

“Paper Son” would be a great title to use when studying immigration. Teachers should use this book and one of the many books available about European immigration to compare and contrast how the immigration process worked — a study which fits in perfectly with Common Core State Standards.

—Pamela Kramer

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Paper Son 3.6
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