These eight tales of turn-of-the-century Chinese immigrants in the New World are a stunning, provocative departure in children’s picture books. Adult in tone but ageless in their blending of magic and realism, they conjure up with gritty immediacy the hard but hopeful lives of the Chinese who worked in salmon fisheries, farms, railway camps, and canneries.
The adventures of the youthful heroes and heroines — who are hurt by prejudice or exploitive bosses but remain undaunted — read like an exhilarating blend of the Brothers Grimm and Maxine Hong Kingston. In ”Spirits of the Railway,” young Chu survives the cruel winter in a railway camp by bundling his frozen feet in potato sacks; he also finds and honors the spirit of his father, who was killed in a tunnel explosion. In ”Ginger for the Heart,” the gentle young seamstress Yenna is parted from her suitor, who must pan for gold to repay his boat fare to the New World. Her steadfastness-and her magical use of ginger-saves his life and reunites them.
Comical, tough, or hauntingly mysterious, the stories in Tales from Gold Mountain tantalize with their strangeness and optimism. Simon Ng’s handsome, surreal full-page illustrations serve them well. A+