CommonLit Secondary Classrooms 9 Compelling Texts by Asian American Authors

These meaningful texts by Chinese American Authors are sure to engage your students!

It is essential to celebrate the diversity of voices in our classrooms. In order to do so, we are showcasing texts by prominent Chinese American authors. These nine powerful memoirs, short stories, and poems that highlight cultural traditions and unique experiences are sure to move your students!

Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan (6th Grade)

In this short story, the narrator recalls her horror when her mother invites the minister’s family over for dinner. Her mother cooks traditional Chinese dishes and the family eats as they normally do, but the narrator is mortified in front of her crush. Years later, she comes to embrace her heritage and realizes how special it was that her mother prepared all her favorite foods. This is a wonderful text to spark a discussion about identity and family ties.

Ribbons” by Laurence Yep (6th Grade)

In this story, a young girl is confused when her grandmother, who recently moved from China, is angry when the girl asks her to reattach the ribbon on her ballet shoes. The girl realizes that her grandmother’s feet were bound as a child and that her grandmother is trying to protect her. This story is excellent for starting a discussion about cultural traditions and generational differences.

I Ask My Mother to Sing” by Li-Young Lee (6th Grade)

In this touching poem, the speaker describes listening to his mother and grandmother sing. The songs connect him and his family with places in China, although he has never visited. This poem can be used to start a conversation about how traditions and cultures are passed down through generations.

The White Umbrella” by Gish Jen (7th Grade)

This short story explores a girl’s complex emotions toward her working class Chinese family. At first, the narrator is embarrassed that her mother has to work to support the family, but over the course of the story she begins to appreciate the sacrifices her mother has made. This story will encourage students to think about the sacrifices their families have made throughout their lives.

Discussion Question 1 highlighted in CommonLit’s lesson, “The White Umbrella” by Gish Jen

From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee (8th Grade)

In this short poem, the speaker describes the unbridled joy of eating a fresh peach. The experience of enjoying the peach symbolizes the appreciation the speaker has for life. This poem provides students with the opportunity to reflect on what brings them joy in their day to day lives.

In My Mom’s Shoes” by Kat Chow (8th Grade)

In this memoir, Kat Chow describes dealing with her mother’s death from cancer. Chow reflects on her grief by describing walking in a pair of her mother’s shoes. Consider pairing this text with “Eating Together” by Li-Young Lee, in which the speaker describes the loss of his father. After reading both texts, ask students to discuss the different portrayals of grief.

 Paired Texts section of CommonLit’s lesson “In My Mom’s Shoes”

Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)

In this story, Waverly, a young Chinese-American girl, becomes a skilled chess player. As she begins to win tournaments, her mother pushes her to practice harder, causing tension in their relationship. The conflict between Waverly and her mother, shaped by cultural expectations, provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their relationship with their families and expectations in their households.

Two Kinds” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)

In this story, the author explores cultural expectations of Chinese-American immigrants through the relationship between a mother and her daughter. The daughter feels like she repeatedly failed her mother by not performing at a high level. After reading, ask students Discussion Question 1, “In the story, June's mother pushes her to be a prodigy, and June thinks it is because her mother does not believe she is good enough. Do you agree with June's interpretation of her mother's motivation? Why or why not?”

The Last Curiosity” by Lucy Tan (10th Grade)

This short story explores what it means to be human. The story takes place after the destruction of mankind and follows artificial intelligence reports about human experiences and culture. After reading, ask students to make text-to-self connections. Use Discussion Question 2, “In this story, the Woken were already waiting for humankind to destroy itself due to the poor choices humans were making. What should the future look like? Was there any truth to the Woken’s observations of humankind?”

Next Steps

Looking for more texts to celebrate Asian American authors and heritage? Browse the Asian and Pacific Islander Authors and Cultures text set on CommonLit!

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