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I AM AN AMERICAN by Martha Brockenbrough


The Wong Kim Ark Story

by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin ; illustrated by Julia Kuo

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-316-42692-3
Publisher: Little, Brown

The history of Chinese American plaintiff Wong Kim Ark and the landmark 1898 Supreme Court decision that held that all people born on U.S. soil are citizens of the United States.

This biography of Wong Kim Ark doubles as a primer on Chinese American and American-immigrant history of the late 19th century. Born in San Francisco to immigrant parents from China, Wong believed in his heart, “I am an American” (as the book’s titular refrain proudly repeats). Plain, short sentences teach readers about immigrant life, racism, and Wong’s personal story. The question of Wong’s citizenship comes to a head when he travels to China to visit and is detained upon his return, despite his bearing a document signed by three White witnesses swearing that he was born in California. Eventually his case “went all the way to the highest court in the land” to decide: “What makes someone American?” Of course, Wong won, and “his victory changed the nation.” Told in simple, spare language, the book is an introduction for very young children to this angle of America’s racist past. The result is a narrative and discourse with gaps, and curious older readers will have questions. The four pages of backmatter may help, including more details of Wong’s life, the court case, American citizenship, and a timeline that combines Wong’s significant dates and general Chinese American history. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

An important and complex period in American history geared to young readers.

(Informational picture book. 4-8)