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Monday, July 2, 2007

Good Luck Gold

Wong, Janet S. 1994. GOOD LUCK GOLD AND OTHER POEMS. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN 0689506171.

Janet Wong has written a selection of (mostly) rhyming poetry discussing the experiences of first and second generation immigrant children, particularly those of Asian heritage. Topics range from the symbolism of green jade jewelry to racial discrimination experienced in the school yard to divorce, alcoholism, family traditions and family responsibilities. Each poem in the GOOD LUCK GOLD collection is titled, and the lengths vary, though none is longer than a single page. Their order is not linear nor from a single person’s point of view, but the message in each is strong. A youth asking the author to say some words in Korean doesn’t understand that the poem’s protagonist doesn’t speak the language. When she asks that a few words be spoken in return, the youth denies, “But I was born here.” And she replies, “So was I.”

Eye-opening, enlightening, and honest, these poems are easy to understand, and paint clear pictures of challenges overcome, and perspectives gained from the author’s own experiences with racism and multicultural households. Poetry styles range from a single paragraph without rhyme or steady rhythm to longer sonnets, to conversational poetry meant for two people to read in character to haiku.

The majority of included poems are even better when read aloud, and are accessible to children from upper elementary through high school, sparking awareness of racism as it is experienced by children today. Many poems in the collection also provide a window into some of the traditions and metaphors enjoyed by Chinese and Korean families, and discuss different ways to view and respond to unfair treatment and dangerous situations. For example, Wong speaks to the caged ducks at the bottom of a clawing smothering pile—“Though waiting at the bottom’s tough, just when you have had enough you’ll see the butcher’s hands reach in—and trust me, you’re the ones who win.” A metaphor for the struggles and discrimination faced by many new Americans, the ducks on top don’t realize how dangerously exposed they are to the one who controls their fate, while the ducks on the bottom will win out with longer lives and more chances for happiness in the end.

School Library Journal: “Children who live in cities with Chinese-American populations will recognize some of the images described--the ducks hanging in grocery-store windows, dim sum stands, parades with firecrackers and dragons. For others, these pieces provide an introduction to the sights and sounds of Chinese-American neighborhoods.”
Booklist: “Fresh, honest, and not at all reverential, these poems are simple dramatic monologues about growing up Asian American. The lines are short and very easy to read; the voices are strongly personal.”

==> This collection is a great jumping off point for research into new American experiences, Asian-American culture and traditions, and multi-ethnic households.
==> This book offers great opportunities for children to experience multiple formats for poetry in an engaging and easy to understand collection. Explore different poetic styles, encourage the children to write their own poetry about racism seen or experienced in their own lives, using one of the forms discussed.

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