I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story

Little, Brown. Nov. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316426923.
K-Gr 4–Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco in 1873 and knew he was an American. He had never lived anywhere else. Then the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882, hindering immigration, job opportunities, and eventual citizenship for Chinese people in the United States. Violence toward Chinese people became even more commonplace, and Ark’s parents went back to China. After visiting his family in China, Ark was detained from entering the country, despite being born in America. He won the lawsuit in San Francisco to be freed, but this did not apply to the U.S. government, so he brought the case to the Supreme Court. His victory guaranteed citizenship to all of those born in the U.S. This detailed picture book biography introduces readers to a historical figure who changed birthright citizenship laws. The digitally rendered artwork fills each spread, and its detailed imagery gives insight into life in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Endpapers include an 1885 neighborhood map of Chinatown, outlining Chinese-occupied, white-occupied, and vacant areas, to give a clearer picture of the city’s population. Back matter features photos and a time line starting with 1849, when the first large group of Chinese immigrants began to settle in the U.S., to the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act.
VERDICT An important picture book biography to augment classroom conversations about immigration and citizenship.

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