American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Graphic Novels, Quick Reads


Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596431522

Plot Summary

Gene Luen Yang tells three different stories in this graphic novel. One of Jin Wang, a boy who just wants to fit in and not be picked on because of his ethnicity. The second tale is of the Monkey King and his quest to get into heaven and be equals with the gods. The third story is of Chin-Kee, a poster child for the negative Chinese stereotype who embarrasses his caucasian cousin, Danny every time he comes to visit. These three stories are seemingly unrelated, but Yang twists them together in a way that will blow the reader away.

Critical Analysis

This book displays nothing but strengths from Yang. His illustrations are superb and filled with action, just like the story lines in his book. Yang makes each character vivid and distinctive so the reader has no trouble identifying each one. There is enough text to fill in the gaps and move the story along, but not too much to bog the reader down. The drawings are large enough to allow for detail and there are only a few per page so the reader does not get overwhelmed with cluttered pages. Perhaps the best part about this book is the way Yang weaves the stories together in the end. He catches the reader completely off-guard with the unexpected twists. In American Born Chinese, Yang takes a fun format and teaches a powerful lesson about being ok with who you are and that it is ok to need help from other people. Yang does such a good job teaching this lesson that teens might not realize at first that they have just learned something so significant from a graphic novel!

Yang’s graphic novel is listed as 10-12 grade and recommended for those grades and adult collections by professional reviewers. This book contains topics that are suited to older teens and young adults and, despite what some might think due to the nature of the format, there are actually some words in the book that are fitting for a higher reading level.

Teens will love this book mainly because of the graphic novel format. It is a quick, fairly easy read with good illustrations and action-packed pages. The relationship issues in the book will also appeal to teens and allow them to identify with the book.

American Born Chinese is a Printz Award winner, a National Book Award finalist, and has won many other awards. This book was published in 2006 and has remained popular since that time. It will continue to remain popular in the future as well because of its high quality illustrations, the rich cultural heritage of the story, and the masterful intertwining of the three stories.


In the book, the three main characters of the three storylines all want to be someone different and take on a different form. Working with the art teacher to teach basic drawing techniques, have students draw themselves in the form they would want to take. Then students can partner up and share their drawings while discussing the advantages and disadvantages to taking on this form. Students can also discuss with each other reasons why they think their partner should be happy with the way they are.

Put students into groups and have them pick one scene from the book to perform. The group will write a script, each member will have a part, and there will be a director. Each group will perform their play for the class, or they may film and produce a short video to present to the class.

Related Resources

How to make webcomics

Kurtz, S. (2008). How to make webcomics. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics. ISBN 9781582408705

This book is an instructional manual type book on how to make comic strips and graphic novels to post online. The summary of the book says that it is hard to get published in this area and that posting on the web can help you gain some traction with publishers. This is a good book to pair with American Born Chinese because some students may want to try their hand at the form after reading this title.

Boxers and Saints

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Boxers. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596433595

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Saints. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596436893

This is another tale about Chinese culture and folklore by the same author as American Born Chinese. Yang tells the story in two volumes this time, using each volume to tell the same story from a different point of view. These two books are good for young adults who want to read more about Chinese culture and history after reading American Born Chinese..

Published Review

Karp, J. (2006, September 1). [Review of the book American Born Chinese]. Booklist. Available online from:

Cover Picture Citation

Yang, G. (2006). Cover of American Born Chinese. Retrieved from


Laughing at my nightmare by Shane Burcaw



Burcaw, S. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781626720077

Plot Summary

Shane Burcaw was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that makes his muscles deteriorate over time and makes it hard for him to perform the simplest of physical tasks. This condition has no effect on his mind though, and in this book, he recounts several stories from his life and tries to explain how he has had to work to convince people that he is not mentally retarded just because his body is deformed. Burcaw shares daily routines and adaptations that he and his family undergo due to his SMA.

Critical Analysis

The greatest strength of Burcaw’s book is his ability to laugh at himself, lessening the awkwardness and diffusing the tension of some situations he has found himself in over the years. He uses humor in his writing and in his life to stay positive and that humor makes the book a very entertaining read. Burcaw is quite sarcastic himself and portrays his brother as such also, adding to the humor of the book. The fact that Burcaw is so honest about his life is refreshing also. He shares challenges he has faced and tells the reader how he has grown over the years. Burcaw’s recounting of life experiences demonstrates to young adults that they can make a difference in people’s lives no matter what situation they are in themselves. The one weakness in this book is the organizational structure. It is roughly chronological, but it is slightly confusing at times because Burcaw jumps back and forth some and retells a few stories.

This book is aimed at high school students and is suited to that age group. Burcaw shares events, feelings, and stories about things that high school students will relate to and will be going through themselves. The reading level is fairly high as well and suited to older teens in high school and even early college.

The appeal of this book is based on its honesty and the author’s willingness to be vulnerable and reveal personal moments and experiences. Young adults will also enjoy the book because of its frank discussions about sex and relationships. Lastly, the cover makes the book appealing to young adults as well because it looks humorous and has a cuss word on it.

Laughing at my nightmare is a current and fresh and Burcaw’s organization is doing things right now, and continuing to grow, so this book will be relevant for a while. The prevalence of bullying and the energy devoted to anti-bullying campaigns, along with a renewed focus on teaching children and young adults to treat everyone with respect make this book a good addition as well. The good writing, honesty, and humor will keep this book in circulation for many years to come.


Using wheelchairs (if available) or rolling chairs, students will experience what it is like to be Shane and to have someone help you with daily tasks such as drinking from a glass, reading a book, checking email, getting your phone off a table, etc. To make the experience as similar to Shane’s as possible, have students hold their arms as close to their body as possible and maintain body contact throughout. If students wish to fasten their arms to their body with an item such as a belt, they may, but should be closely supervised, and should never be required to do this part.

Students can create objects to help them manage these tasks easier such as the straw that Shane mentions in his book. Students may be as creative as possible in making up these items, but they must get their partner to complete the physical portions that they cannot complete with their arms touching their body at all times.

Related Resources

Muscular Dystrophy Association Webpage

Muscular Dystrophy Association. (n.d.) Spinal Muscular Atrophy: Overview. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from

This web page is on the website for the Muscular Dystrophy Organization. The disease that Burcaw has is a form of muscular dystrophy and this page tells about the disease. This is a good informational resource to pair with the book to provide more details about SMA.

Laughing at my nightmare Website

Laughing at my nightmare, Inc. (n.d.). Laughing at my nightmare. Custom website designed by Retrieved July 13, 2015, from

This website is the home for Shane Burcaw’s non-profit organization and includes a link to his blog, information about booking Shane and his team, a place to donate, a place to shop for merchandise, and a section of funny photos and posts to make you laugh. Sharing this website in conjunction with this book will provide a place for readers to learn more about Shane and his team and keep up with him and his endeavors.

Published Review

Wexler, T. (2014, October). [Review of the book Laughing at my nightmare]. Publishers Weekly. Available online from:

Cover Picture Citation

Carr, M. (2014). Cover of Laughing at my nightmare. Retrieved from

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover

Fantastic Fiction


Hoover, P.J. (2014). Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life. New York, NY: A Tom Doherty Associates Book. ISBN 9780765334688

Plot Summary

After a battle in ancient times with his uncle Horemheb, King Tut and his uncle are both made immortal by the gods and “Tut” ends up living the next three thousand years as a 14-year old. The story follows him to present-day Washington, D.C. where is he trying to survive the 8th grade when mysterious things start happening. Tut comes to find out that his uncle has found him and is seeking revenge, but Tut goes on a journey to find revenge of his own before his uncle gets to him.

Critical Analysis

P.J. Hoover has crafted a fast-paced fantasy adventure based in an historical tale. King Tut was not buried in his tomb after all, but became immortal and ended up in present-day Washington, D.C. where he uses witty humor and an unlikely set of sidekicks to outwit his evil uncle. Hoover’s strengths lie in the multidimensional characters she has created. Tut is not just the boy king; he also has a softer side where he cares about the weird kid from class who becomes his friend and ends up in grave danger. In turn, that same weird kid from class is more than that as well: he turns out to be clever and daring, willing to risk his life to help Tut on his mission. Readers of this book will also benefit from Hoover’s ability to impart some factual knowledge without being too didactic. The author also does a good job of presenting a moral lesson without hitting readers over the head with it: the curse plaguing the city immediately disappears once Tut decides to give up on his revenge plot. In the end, the mighty Pharaoh who tradition dictates care mostly about himself, is more motivated by helping others and making things better for those around him. This overarching theme gives the reader a good feeling and allows a connection with the characters and an investment in the story so that the reader is pulling for Tut and his friends all the way until the end. The one weakness I found, if it can even be labeled as such, was the fact that Tut’s name was not really changed at all and yet people seemed to have no idea who he was or think it was weird at all that a modern day teen was named “Tut”. I suppose willing suspension of disbelief plays into this equation.

This book is listed as intended for grades 4-8 and the reading level is easy enough for those fourth graders without being too basic for eighth graders. Also, the fast-paced action will keep the older kids entertained. Older students will also be challenged to pick up on more nuances throughout the text. The book contains small hints at a romantic relationship and one split-second kiss, but nothing inappropriate for the fourth grade end of the suggested age range.

Tut will appeal to young adults by way of its unique subject matter. Fans of Percy Jackson will enjoy this book as well due to the mythology content. The fast-paced action and humor make the book appealing to boys, but the lack of crude humor will make it attractive to girls as well.

P.J. Hoover is a Texas-based author and has found recognition for this title on the Texas Lone Star List 2015 and in the Spirit of Texas Middle School Reading List 2015-2016, but it is easy to see this book garnering nationwide acclaim as well. As mentioned above, this book has been likened to Percy Jackson. That fact, plus the hint of a sequel in the closing pages leads one to believe it could be a popular title for some time. Turning this into a two book or even three book series would keep readers interested in the exciting adventures of King Tut and keep this title flying off shelves for the next several years. The resources in the back about King Tut, mummies, etc. also serve to make it an enduring title.


Pharaohs were entombed with things they thought they would need in the afterlife and with prized possessions.

Have each student determine what would accompany them in their tomb if they were to be mummified like a Pharaoh. Have them create an info-graphic using a Web 2.0 tool to display their choices and explain the rationale for each item.

Related Resources

King Tut Unwrapped DVD

Quilici, B. (Producer, Director), & Goldberg, R. (Writer). (2010). King Tut Unwrapped: Royal Blood [TV Mini-Series]. United States: Discovery Channel, Inc. Retrieved from:

Quilici, B. (Producer, Director), & Goldberg, R. (Writer). (2010). King Tut Unwrapped: Life and Death [TV Mini-Series]. United States: Discovery Channel, Inc. Retrieved from:

This series of videos available on the Discovery Channel website show an inside look at King Tut, using DNA testing and CT scans to learn more about the “Boy King”. These videos will fit well into a science lesson that relates to the novel.

National Geographic Website

National Geographic. (n.d.). Unravelling the Mysteries of King Tutankhamun. Retrieved July 7, 2015, from

This is a virtual tour of King Tut’s tomb that has audio narration available. This would be good to pair with the book for a social studies or science lesson.

Published Review

Rico, M. (2014, September 1). [Review of the book Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life]. School Library Journal. Available online from SLJ through Book Verdict

Cover Picture Citation

Madson, J. (2014). Cover of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life. Retrieved from

I’m Just Me by M.G. Higgins

Contemporary Realistic Fiction


Higgins, M.G. (2014). I’m Just Me. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback Educational Publishing. ISBN 9781622507214

Plot Summary

Nasreen is a muslim who wears the traditional hijab head covering and endures verbal abuse and horrible bullying each day at the almost all white Arondale High. Mia is an African-American teen from the inner-city who ends up transferring to Arondale and befriends Nasreen. The friendship increases the amount of bullying the two must endure and efforts to tell adults are met with threats of increased efforts from the bullies. The two friends decide to take matters into their own hands and formulate a plan to fight back against their tormentors.

Critical Analysis

I’m Just Me is a raw and emotional account of what it is like to be different and to be bullied because of that fact. The novel’s main strength is that it does a fantastic job of evoking a wide range of emotions. The reader feels anger, sadness, empathy, frustration, disgust, joy, the feeling of a new crush, and hope all within the two hundred one pages. This novel also does a good job of giving a very honest account of what it is like to be bullied and of putting the reader in the situation. The story is told from the viewpoints of the two protagonists, both of whom are being bullied. The situations they find themselves in and their reactions to those situations are completely believable and will make the reader identify more with the book as he or she is almost certain to have witnessed similar situations before at school. Both of the protagonists are well-developed female characters and Higgins does a good job of revealing their many dimensions to the reader through her prose. As good a job as this novel does at evoking emotions and providing strong characters with which readers can identify, it has many weaknesses in other areas. For starters, the build up takes a large portion of the book and then the climax and ending seem rushed, a little forced, and underdeveloped. Also, throughout the book, the adults are unaware of the situation and in one instance where Mia tells the principal what is going on, he is very flippant about the whole thing, saying that the accused bully is “a model student. He’s very popular” (p. 125) as a means of explaining why he would never do such a thing. Sadly, this behavior probably does exist from some teachers and administrators, but it felt as if the lack of recognition and action from adults in the novel was a little over exaggerated. This novel also falls short in providing sound coping mechanisms. The suggestions given by the school counselor for dealing with it are to be assertive and let him or the principal know if anything else happens. While these are both good pieces of advice, Higgins missed a real opportunity to provide a rich repertoire of coping mechanisms. Also, there are no references at the end of the book for information on bullying, suggested readings or websites, or hotlines where teens can turn for help with bullying. Finally, there is one aspect that can be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on how it is viewed. The book is listed as a third grade reading level, but focuses on high school characters and deals with topics that are advanced well beyond the elementary years. This can be a weakness in that it is not challenging for readers of the intended age group. It can also be a strength in that it is good for young adult/teen readers who read below grade level.

While this book is certainly not developmentally appropriate in regards to the reading level, the subject matter is appropriate for readers in grades 9-12. The novel can help teens who are being bullied identify with characters who are experiencing the same thing and learn one or two surface level coping mechanisms. There is some mild language in the book, but it is aimed at high school age young adults, and the language actually strengthens the emotions felt by the characters, and in turn, the reader.

This book will appeal to young adults first because it a quick, easy read. It will also appeal to those who are or have been bullied or who have a friend who is or has been bullied. It may be off-putting to those young adults who are themselves bullies, but if they stick it out to the end, it could result in changes in their behavior.

Higgins has crafted a good read that does address a topic that is very relevant to today and probably will remain relevant in the future as well. This novel has won a few awards, albeit none of them major name awards, but a lack of offered solutions and a mediocre ending will keep it from being around for long.


The Compliments Activity

In order to help students learn how to look for good in people and celebrate differences, have students make thoughtful positive comments about their classmates.

First, each student can decorate a piece of paper with their name at the top and leave their paper on their desk. Then, students can move around the room, writing a compliment on each classmate’s paper. At the end of the activity, each student will have a page full of compliments about them.

Prior to completing this activity, you could discuss with the students examples of compliments that are thoughtful and meaningful versus “you are pretty”, “you have nice hair”. You could also add a targeted language arts element to this activity by requiring students to write in complete sentences rather than just fragments.

Related Resources

Beyond Bullies Website

Sandhu, R. (n.d.). Helping Teens, Youth and Families Facing Bullying and Cyberbullying. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from

This website offer several great resources for teens on bullying. There is information about what to do if you are being bullied, a place to talk with a teen leader who has experienced bullying, and information on several anti-bullying programs.

Book about Bullying

Meyer, S., Meyer, C., Sperber, E., & Alexander, H. (2013). Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies & Bystanders. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI Teens. ISBN 9780757317606

This book has no professional reviews, but has a large number of endorsements from authors, teens, parents, teachers, and librarians. Even though it is not critically acclaimed, it contains true stories from the teens who lived through bullying experiences and as such, could be an invaluable tool in providing help to a young adult who is in a bullying situation.

Published Review

Randall, J. (2014, June 1). [Review of the book I’m Just Me]. Voice of Youth Advocates. Available online from VOYA:

Cover Picture Citation

Saddleback Educational Publishing. (2014). Cover of I’m Just Me. Retrieved from