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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Coolies by Yin (A Book Review)

An Ordinary Survival Tale of Two Extraordinary Brothers Who Build Their Own American Dream

Book Reviewed: Coolies

Author: Yin

Illustrator: Chris Soentpiet

Rating: 5.0/5.0 stars

Pros: It is a classic in every sense of the word.

Cons: Not found

“Coolies” by Yin details the story of Chinese railroad workers who endured the harsh working conditions and racial prejudice for a better life for their families. The titled derives from the derogatory name for a lower-class worker often used on Asian descent. (See Wikipedia’s definition here.)For such an emotionally charged term, it can be hard to write a children’s story that doesn’t antagonize or polarize readers. Yin, in the book “Coolies” manages to pull this off with grace and elegance by focusing on the story of two brothers who survive an ordeal that some adults did not.

The book is only about 20 or so pages long, which makes for a very easy and worthwhile read. The illustrations by Chris Soentpiet are masterpieces, filled with exquisite detail and emotion that is needed to handle such an emotionally heavy story. The plot is simple enough to understand by a five year old, but the way the author delivers the story makes it a page turner even for adults. Reading the book, I wanted to know what would happen to Shek and Wong!

This is a great story that I would recommend for children ages 8 and up. It would be helpful if the child is familiar with the history of the railroad in the West. Reading this book opened my own eyes (and I thought I knew history) to the countless number of stories that were a part of the railroad’s and America’s history that have yet to be shared. “Coolies” is a powerful story where children have the power and courage to transform their family’s lives despite the obstacles that are put in their way. It also provides a history lesson that children and adults should not forget: When looking for profits, one should not lose sight of the human who is helping you earn that profit.