Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Milly Lee
Illustrator:  Yangsook Choi 
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006   ISBN: 978-0374343149

One day Sun’s father tells him that he is now old enough to go to America. All of Sun’s older brothers are already in America, where they help Sun’s father in the family business in San Francisco. However, before Sun can leave he must study hard so that he will be able to answer all the questions that the officials will put to him when he arrives in America. If he gets even one question wrong they may send him back to China.

So Sun begins to study, with the help of Mr. Chan. Mr. Chan tells Sun what kind of questions he should expect, and Sun memorizes his answers until he knows each one perfectly. The one thing that he is not very good at doing is figuring out where places are in his village . Will this be a problem he wonders? If only he had a compass.

Then at last, wearing his new Western clothes and with his bags packed, Sun and his father leave their home and begin their long journey to Gold Mountain, which is what the Chinese call America.

In Hong Kong, Sun and his father get on board the SS President Taft. Sun meets all kinds of different people and eats western food for the first time, some of which he likes very much. He asks his father what his new life will be like, and his father tells him that in San Francisco Sun will go to school and help out in the family business.

On the last night on the ship Sun’s father explains that Sun will not be going ashore with him. Sun will have to go to Angel Island, the place where new immigrants are taken. There he will be questioned. If he passes his tests Sun’s father will be notified and he will come and collect Sun.

Sun is frightened and worried about being separated from his father, but he does what he is told and is taken by boat to Angel Island where he has a health examination. Then there is a long period of waiting. For weeks Sun does nothing but eat, sleep, and wait. Then, at last, it is his turn to be examined. Will he be able to answer the questions correctly or will he have problems describing the layout of his village?

In this engaging picture book the author gives her readers a very realistic idea of what it must have been like to be a Chinese immigrant child who had to go through Angel Island before being allowed to enter the United States. Without a doubt it must have been a frightening experience, for one never knew if one was going to be “landed” or sent back to China. An author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further background information about the Chinese immigrant experience. It is here that readers will find out that the Lee Sun Chor in the story is actually related to the author.