asian-american, culture, graphic novlels, spotlight

Spotlight: The Geraldine Pu Series

Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! (Simon Spotlight)
Written & Illustrated by Maggie P. Chang

For ages: 5-9
For non-white children living in America, there is a good chance they will encounter some form of racism in their early life. Recently, Asian-Americans have been targeted by hate crimes due to COVID-19 and some politicians & media’s insistence that it was a nefarious plot by the Chinese. These sorts of narratives cause so much harm, especially for young children who are always trying to balance a sense of individuality with acceptance by their peers. In the first book of Maggie P. Chang’s Geraldine Pu series, we see a little girl dealing with prejudice due to her culture and see how she overcomes bullying.

Geraldine brings a traditional lunch to school, Biandang, a sort of Taiwanese bento box. She opens it up at lunchtime, excited to eat when classmate Nico exclaims that it smells terrible. The other children at the table join in with Nico, and after the second day of ridicule over her food, Geraldine chooses not to eat the meal her grandmother packed for her. On the bus, her surname Pu becomes a point of ridicule. Things change the next day when one of her favorite dishes, Stinky Tofu, sits in her lunch box. Geraldine finds the strength within to stand up for herself. This sphere grows when Nico targets other students for their food, and Geraldine shows solidarity with them.

This is a wonderful introduction to graphic novels for young readers beginning to shift out of picture books and into longer-form reads. Chang includes a glossary upfront with some Mandarin vocabulary she’ll use in the book. She also presents a simple guide to reading graphic novels, showing the young readers the flow of panels and different types of dialogue bubbles (speech, thoughts, etc.). 

Activities
1. Have your student(s) draw a picture of their favorite food they make at home. Have them write a journal about why this food is their favorite and, who they would share it with & why.

2. Make a new dish together as a family. The book includes a recipe for Amah’s Steamed Pork Bao Buns, which you can use. However, if that’s not something you can make, try a recipe for something the family has never had before. This way, you can have conversations while making it and eating about this new shared experience.

3. Have your student(s) decorate their lunch box. Talk with them about what parts of their personality & culture they want represented on their lunch box and how they can do that.

Geraldine Pu and Her Cat Hat, Too! (Simon Spotlight)
Written & Illustrated by Maggie P. Chang

For ages: 5-9
Maggie P. Chang does an excellent job presenting moments that could be incredibly distressing but doing it with the most gentle touch. She doesn’t diminish the hurt her protagonist feels, but she also doesn’t allow the experience to define Geraldine as a person. In this second entry into the series, the focus is on Geraldine’s self-critique of her hair. Her Amah (grandmother) has a natural wave in her hair, while young Geraldine dislikes what she sees as plain black straight hair. Geraldine decides to handle it herself, which, if you have been around young children who decided to cut their own hair, you know how this turns out.

The revelation moment for Geraldine comes when she actually talks to her Amah. She learns that when Amah was a little girl, she hated her wavy hair and did everything to straighten it. Geraldine’s Cat Hat has become a way to hide a part of herself she feels ashamed about, but after talking with Amah, she embraces her hair as a beautiful thing. There’s some humor in the story, too, coming out of her little brother deciding to cut chunks of his own hair because he wants to change it up like everyone else. It’s through his folly that Geraldine reflects on her thoughts and, after talking to Amah, realizes the silliness in not loving yourself wholly.

Like the first book, we get a Mandarin glossary and a guide on reading a graphic novel. These books are also broken into chapters following a basic three-act storytelling structure. This could add to making story maps of these books because students can use those chapters as boundaries for what should be written in each section of their map. There are also a lot of great opportunities to make predictions while reading and tons of journaling/self-reflection potential.

Activities
1. Ask your student(s) what they love about themselves. Spend time talking about why they love this aspect and what they do to show people how much they love it.

2. Have students think about their favorite clothing accessory (hat, belt, jewelry, etc.) and imagine it was alive. What would its name be? What does it think about them? What is its favorite thing to do? Transition from a conversation into some creative writing.

3. The book includes directions on making a self-portrait using found materials. Adding onto that would be a writing piece explaining what they want people to learn about them by seeing this portrait and whether any materials hold a specific significance.

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