Tuesday, July 24, 2007

THE STAR FISHER by Laurence Yep


Yep, Laurence. 1992. THE STAR FISHER. Puffin: New York ISBN-10: 0140360034 ISBN-13: 978-0140360035


In 1927, a Chinese American family moves to West Virginia from Ohio. The Lee family opens a new laundry in an old school house. Their landlord, Miss Lucy, is a kind and interesting woman that befriends Joan and her family. Mrs. Lee grew up as the youngest child in her family and never learned to cook. After several ruined dinners Miss Lucy offers to teach Joan's mother to cook. Mrs. Lee is asked to bake a pie for the church social. With the help of Miss Lucy, Mrs. Lee presents a pie that is enjoyed by several people at the social. The majority of the people in Clarksburg are slow to accept the Lee family. With the help of Miss Lucy and the Reverend, the town begins to accept the Lee family and bring business to the laundry.


The story is based on the memories of the authors' family. Joan Lee is fifteen and born in America. According to her mother, she is sixteen in the Chinese tradition of counting from conception. The title of the book comes from a folktale. In the story that is told by Joan to her little sister, a farmer falls in love with a woman with a beautiful voice. The woman is a magical kingfisher bird. The farmer takes the woman away from her sisters by taking her magical feathered cloak. He hides the magic cloak from his wife to keep her from leaving. They marry and have a child. The child feels different from the other children and doesn't feel as if she belongs. After several years the mother discovers her cloak and flies away telling the child she will return for her. The child has been marked by the golden kingfishers and will also be a star fisher that has the freedom to fly away.

The folktale plays an integral part in the Star Fisher. The book relates the ideas in the folktale to Joan's feelings of being different and not fitting in. As the woman in the tale is held captive, Joan also feels that she needs to become independent from her parents. The mother's in both situations are looking for a way to return to what they know.

The Star Fisher is written in English. The reader is meant to read the story as if it has been told in Joan's home language. The words spoken in English by the characters are printed in Italics to differentiate them from the rest of the text.

Language is a barrier for the mother that speaks very little English. The mother is a strong character that wants to control her family. The mother and daughter share in the universal theme of 'leaving the nest'. Joan is growing up and has a need for independence. In the story, Joan and her mother begin to understand the needs of each other.

The Lee's are confronted with prejudice in their new home. They must deal with derogatory remarks and words painted on their fence. The laundry, in this story is based on the author's history. The Chinese Laundry is a stereotype that has been used over the years. It plays an important part in the story but perpetuates the stereotype. In The Star Fisher, Mr. Lee is a scholar that writes poems. Political problems in his home country forced him to start new life in America. The Lee family wears clothing like other Americans but are kept at a distance by most of the town because they look different. They are treated as if they are "fresh off the boat" and don't understand English. They eat apple pie and sandwiches and are in many ways, acculturated into the American lifestyle.

The Star Fisher is a quality story for children and adults. It is interesting and has depth in it's characters. It was a winner of the Christopher Award.


Publishers Weekly
Based on the author's own experiences, this Christopher Award winner movingly describes a Chinese American family's adjustment to their new home in West Virginia in 1927 and the prejudice they encounter there. Ages 10-14.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

School Library Journal
Grade 6-8-- On the first night in their new home in a small West Virginia town, 15-year-old Joan Lee lulls her little sister to sleep with the story of a magical kingfisher who is held captive in human form by her mortal husband, but who is later helped by her daughter. She soon joins her mother in the stars, but is sometimes seen, comet like, attempting to bridge heaven and Earth. Joan, the oldest daughter of the only Chinese family in 1927 Clarksburg, at first sees only herself in the story's symbols: caught between two worlds. As she braves the curiosity and prejudice of the townspeople, helps bridge a friendship between her mother and an elderly neighbor, and gets acquainted with an enigmatic classmate, she realizes that she is not the only one struggling to find a niche. Joan's story will appeal to any reader who has ever felt excluded, but she and her family seem to hold many more stories begging to be shared. Based on tales Yep gleaned from his mother and her family, whose resilience and humor shine through, The Star Fisher offers tantalizing glimpses of interesting characters, but abruptly shifts focus from a family story with the younger sister as a strong character to a relationship between mother and daughter. Basically, there is too much depth and complexity here to be confined to one book. --Carla Kozak, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Other books by Yep

Yep, Laurence. 2001. COCKROACH COOTIES. Hyperion. ISBN-10: 0786813385 ISBN-13: 978-0786813384
Laurence Yep
2003. THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH. HarperTrophy. ISBN-10: 0064408523 ISBN-13: 978-0064408523
Laurence Yep. DREAM SOUL.

*This books gives an opportunity for a discussion on predjudice.

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