1. Food – It’s always a good idea to try to use the food of the OSOB selection to bring the book – and its time and culture, its setting – to life. In the case of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, the temptation might be to use Chinese food. I’d recommend against this. Most students are already familiar w/ Chinese food – and while it might be fun – it wouldn’t be novel or educational. Instead, I’d focus on Shirley’s assimilation to America. Try to re-create that first lunch she shares with her classmates at Mr. P’s: meatball subs (complete w/ onions, peppers, and marinara sauce) and orange soda. And see if you can find all the candy Shirley mentions. (e.g. Juicy Fruit gum) Kids will definitely go for that!
2. Chinese culture – I would seize on all the elements of Chinese culture in the novel you can find – and bring them out. This could mean the game of “pick-up-beans” we find Shirley playing in the first chapter. Or it could be a demonstration or exploration or discussion of Chinese habits and idioms. Imagine a day where no one was allowed to receive a compliment by saying “thank you” (p. 70, p. 138) and in fact had to articulate simple common courtesies Chinese-style (in Chinese idiom). Or even something as simple as taking a bird for a walk. (Imagine if everyone “took a bird for a walk” one day – even homemade or pretend birds.)
5. Discussion – It is clear there is a lot that is different about Chinese culture. Shirley tells us this and readily embraces American culture – but this is the one element of the novel that might be worth a little straight ahead discussion. Confucianism, for example, might be presented and explained and discussed, particularly the stricture (which Shirley mentions) about children not speaking until spoken to. (Imagine asking students to live that way.)
- Or Grandfather’s “things are not always what they seem” bon mot. Students might be asked to (might even want to) write about their own examples of this joy/sorrow phenomena. (p. 83)
- Or Jackie Robinson’s civics lesson – How Jackie Robinson explains why the Wong Family came to America (why so many others have sought to and still want to come ot America) – p. 92
- The toughest challenge will be to discuss or try to explain Grandfather’s Tale of the Filial Daughter. But for some students (or families or classes) that may be very stimulating and just the ticket.
6. #42 – Kids will be interested to know more about Jackie Robinson. Many students read Jackie Robinson biographies and do Jackie Robinson reports in elementary school – so that is a natural. But they may be interested to know more. That Major League Baseball re-named the Rookie of the Year Award after him. And then officially retired his number – 42 – in every major league park. No one will ever wear #42 again in MLB. (Except Mariano Rivera – the only player remaining allowed to wear the # – grandfathered when MLB retired his #.) Or that MLB now celebrates April 15 – the day he debuted – as Jackie Robinson Day – and that MLB players (especially – but not exclusively – African-American players) all wear #42 in tribute to him on that day. (Yes, you’ll see 18+ players all wearing the same #42 in tribute to Jackie on Jackie Robinson Day.)