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illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet


School Library Journal:

Gr 1-4- When the western line of the transcontinental railroad joined the eastern line at Promontory Point, UT, in 1869, the engraving commemorating the event left out an important group of workers-the Chinese. Derisively called “coolies” by their white overseers, these refugees from Southern China came to California desperate for any work that would help them feed their starving families back home. This picture book, cast as a story told by a modern Chinese  grandmother, transforms the familiar ethnic slur into a badge of honor. Large double spreads, reminiscent of epic murals, portray the perilous adventures of two brothers, Shek and Wong. After bidding their mother good-bye on the dock, they endure cramped quarters in a stormy passage across the Pacific to arrive at “The Land of Opportunity.” Soentpiet’s art, consistently amplifying the text, provides an ironic counterpoint, showing dazed Chinese  disembarking while hostile white men stare. Subsequent scenes, painted in vivid yellows, oranges, and deep blues, dramatize the achievements of these slight, tough workers who ply sledgehammers under a blazing sun, set dynamite charges, and brave freezing temperatures and avalanches to lay track over high mountain peaks. The callousness of the railroad bosses, who pay the Chinese less than their white counterparts and starve them out of a strike, is contrasted with the devotion of the two brothers, tenderly depicted in art and text. An informative author’s note is appended. Soentpiet’s impassioned paintings add new emotional resonance to the heroic saga of despised immigrants whose heroism matched the towering mountains of the west.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.


  • ALA Notable Children’s Books: 2002
  • International Reading Association Children’s Book  Award: Intermediate Fiction (post-2001 winners)
  • Parents’ Choice Awards – Picture Books: 2001


1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, Ages 0-8, Historical Fiction, Identity