The Legend of Auntie Po

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Industrial Age

The Legend of Auntie Po
Author: Khor, Shing Yin
Buy at Amazon |

Time Period: Industrial Age
Time Frame: 1885-1886
Geographic Area: North America
Country: United States
Topics: Logging Town, Chinese Immigration, Tall Tales and Legends, LGBTQ+
Genre: Fiction, Own Voices
Reading Age: Middle Grade, Upper Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Published: 2021

American History > Industrial Age > LGBTQ+

Part historical fiction, part fable, and 100 percent adventure. Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.

Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman's daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan--reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.

Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in the United States.

Emily's Review

"I’m angry that I have to make my own gods. I’m angry that even the gods I make can’t help my family."

What an amazing story - I read the whole thing in one sitting because I just couldn't pull myself away. Mei is a young girl, living in a logging camp where her father is the head cook. Times are hard in the days following the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Mei knows her future prospects are limited because of her Chinese heritage, despite the fact that she was born in America. But she longs to study and read and make a good life for herself in America despite those struggles.

I loved Mei so much - she is one of those bookish heroines that you can't help but fall in love with. I appreciated the way she used storytelling to both inspire others and herself. She creates the hero, Auntie Po, and her water buffalo Pei Pei to make her feel braver in the face of their troubles. I love the questions she asks and the ideas that are raised in this story - Why do we have traditions? Why is storytelling so important? Can our stories be shared?

Mei loves her father and her life working with him in the kitchen at the logging camp. The owner of the camp is a close friend of her father, and Mei has grown up with his daughter Bee. I really liked how you can see that Mei's feelings for Bee might be more complex than what Bee feels for her. Ultimately this is a slice-of-life story about a young girl grappling with her circumstances in a world where she's othered and excluded, and overcoming those odds through friendship, loyalty, and hope.

And did I mention the artwork in this book? The watercolor paintings are just beautiful and fit so perfectly with the story. I think this is a wonderful graphic novel that would complement any study of American History. Perfect for ages 9+.

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