My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

Written & Illustrated by: Kam Mak

For ages: 4 years & up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Poetry, Immigration, Asian-American Experience, Chinese Culture, Family. 

Summary: This book chronicles the first year that the narrator, a young boy, spends away from his old home in Hong Kong and instead in an American Chinatown.  Reflecting on memories of Hong Kong, the narrator comes to term with the move and different aspects of his culture such as picking out live fish at the market for dinner.  Poem topics include holidays like New Year and the Moon festival as well as listening to his mother’s sewing machine and playing with his sister.

The poems denote both acute observation and at times a sense of melancholy, a boy reckoning with growing older and learning a new culture.  The accompanying illustrations are beautiful and photo-realistic.  A valuable addition to any bookshelf for an introduction to poetry, Chinese culture, and immigration.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever made a big move like the narrator?
  • What do you think would be difficult to get used to in a new country?
  • How do you think poetry helped the narrator adjust to a new life outside of Hong Kong?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Find out why groups of immigrants create neighborhoods like Chinatown or Little Italy.  What are the benefits to being from the same cultural group and living in the same place?
  • The narrator mentions an animal chess game.  Do you know how to play chess?  What might be different about games from different countries?  See if you can find the game in the book, and learn to play!
  • Try writing your own poem.  Choose a topic that is important to you, like the author did, and write about your experiences.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

kam-makKam Mak was born in Hong Kong. His family moved to the United States in 1971 and settled in New York City. His interest in painting was awakened through involvement with City Art Workshop, an organization that enables inner-city youths to explore the arts. Kam continued to pursue his interest in painting while attending the School of Visual Arts on a full scholarship, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1984. Mr. Mak’s works has been exhibited at the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition, The Original Art show (dedicated to the best of children’s picture books) and in a one-person show at the Brooklyn Public Library. He has illustrated over 200 paintings for book covers, magazine and editorial pieces for such client as, HarperCollins, St. Martins Press, Random House, National Geographic, Time magazine, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

Kam’s most recent art has graced the second series of the USPS lunar New Year stamps and also a new postcard stamp for the USPS adored with the fish Koi was released in spring 2009. His most recent book My Chinatown: One Year In Poems received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and is about a little boy growing up in Chinatown. My Chinatown was the Parent’s Choice 2002 Recommended Award Winner by the Parents’ Choice Foundation. The Dragon Prince, published by HarperCollins won him the Oppenheim Platinum Medal for the best children’s picture book of 1997, and the National Parenting Publication Gold Medal for the best children’s picture book of 1997. Mr. Mak was awarded a gold medal for the cover art for The Kite Rider and silver medals for the cover art for My Chinatown from the Society of Illustrators 45th Annual Exhibition in 2003. He also won the Stevan Dohanos Award from the Society of Illustrators (awarded to an artist in recognition of his or her artistic excellence). In November 2008 Mr. Mak was awarded The Asian American Dynamic Achiever Awards of OCA-Westchester & Hudson Valley Chapter, for his outstanding accomplishment in the arts and In 2009, The past awardees include Elaine Chao, The previous Secretary of the US Department of Labor under the Bush’s administration, and Mr. Ang Lee, an acclaimed film director & producer. In 2009 he was the recipient of the Inspiration Award from APEX.

Kam is a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology as well as guest lectures at many of the public schools and institutions. He is currently working on a series of portrait and still life paintings incorporating the use of egg tempera; it is a painting process that uses egg yolk to bind pigments. Egg tempera was a medium of choice for many renaissance artists in the 14 and 15 centuries. Kam currently lives with his wife Mari and children Luca and Dylan in Carroll Garden, Brooklyn.

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