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Laurence Yep

Theme: Fighting Stereotypes
Grades: Grades 6-7

In this historical novel about the pursuit of dreams, Moon Shadow is a young Chinese immigrant who comes to San Francisco at the turn of the century to join his father Windrider, whom he has never met. At first father and son live and work with relatives in the Chinese section of town, but when a man is killed and their lives are endangered, the two move out and make friends with a woman and her granddaughter. The four survive the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but Moon Shadow and his father are forced to move again. With Moon Shadow's help, Windrider begins to pursue some of his long-held dreams.

  1. Chinese Culture.
    Have students, in small groups or as a class, share what they know about an aspect of Chinese culture, for example, customs, language, art, or myths. Encourage students to recall their discussions as they read Dragonwings and modify their assumptions as necessary. Also provide books on the Chinese in the classroom for students to peruse before and during their reading of the novel.
  1. Gangs.
    Explain that gangs called brotherhoods play a role in Dragonwings. Discuss with your students some of the forces that cause gangs to develop and establish power over a population. Explain that the brotherhoods in Chinatown were not always corrupt. Sometimes they were the main source of law and order in the Chinatown community, but eventually, most were consumed by feuds and corruption. Help students connect the information to their experience by asking questions such as the following: How are modern gangs similar? Can the formation of gangs be prevented? Should they be? If so, how can that be done without violating people's civil rights?
  1. Balanced?
    Ask students if they think the novel gives a balanced portrayal of both whites and Chinese—or do they think its portrayals unfair to one or both groups?

  1. Stage a Scene.
    Ask students to discuss the ways that Windrider and Moon Shadow handle their harassment by white Americans. Did they handle it well? Could it have been handled better? How would students handle the situation? Divide them into groups and have them write scenes in which they respond to prejudice in the way they think best.
  1. Immigration.
    Have students research the experiences of another immigrant group in California around the turn of the century, such as the Irish, Germans, Japanese, or Mexicans. Instruct them to write a comparison between the experiences of that group in California and the Chinese experience as they know it from Dragonwings.

  2. Rules of the Brotherhood.
    In this project, students will imagine that they are starting a brotherhood in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 1900s. The task is to agree on rules and decide how they will enforce the rules. Their purpose is to provide protection and law enforcement for their community because the American police rarely enforce the law in Chinatown. Students should remember that they are cut off from most of American society by language and prejudice.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide students into small groups, representing the leaders of one brotherhood. Have students list the problems their community is facing because of its exclusion from American society and law enforcement. Suggest they use the library or textbooks in addition to Dragonwings to research actual problems that San Francisco's Chinatown suffered from in the early 1900s.
  • Have students discuss the laws that need to be enforced in their community and a just means of enforcement. Each group should vote on which laws they will pass, how they will be enforced, and who will be responsible for enforcing them.
  • Next, brotherhoods need to get together and negotiate rules everyone will follow. This will help students learn cooperation and negotiating skills, as well as listening and speaking skills. They can then post the negotiated list of rules, or write or type the rules on paper, photocopy them, and distribute them to the entire class.