In June, I made a commitment to read more books with main characters from different cultures. My commitment grew as I looked for books with these characters, where their race or their culture was NOT the focus of the book, but rather the book was about these characters who happen to be from a different culture.
One of my favorites this summer was Stargazing by Jen Wang. This is the story of two friends who are growing up in the same Chinese- American neighborhood, but who are completely different. While Christine is quiet and focused on schoolwork and playing her violin, Moon is rowdy and interested in music and dancing. The two form an unlikely friendship, with the typical highs and lows you expect to see in a young friendship. In this graphic novel, the illustrations highlight each girl’s desire to be more like the other. Middle grade readers will relate to Christine’s jealousy when Moon begins to meet new friends, and may see themselves in how each reacts to their first fight.
I love that some of my students will see themselves and their home lives in this story- the Chinese and Taiwanese culture is represented through the illustrations, which include food, Chinese writing, and the characters. All students will understand the idea that we meet so many people in the course of a day, and we don’t always know what goes on at home.
This summer I had the opportunity to visit virtually with a former student as we discussed this graphic novel. This reader loves graphic novels and told me in June, “Stargazing is amazing. I think you will love it.” She was right! As we sat down to talk about this book, we came to some conclusions together:
- Christine’s and Moon’s families were opposite, and Chrsitine’s parents were very strict. It was great when Christine finally stood up to her dad when he was talking about Moon in a negative way. It was also great when her dad apologized and realized he wasn’t being nice.
- The author had messages for both adults and for kids:
- Adults ~Maybe you don’t need to be so strict all the time and let your kids have freedom to do stuff on their own. You can always change.
- Kids ~Accept differences in each other. It is ok to be different. Remember to be kind.
I can imagine using this book with my students to launch some writing activities which could address many standards.. Some ideas are:
- Write a get well soon card to Moon from Christine’s point of view.
- Write an apology note to Moon from Christine’s point of view.
- Write a note to Dad asking for permission to go to a concert or to wear nail polish.
- Write a sequel to this story. After writing, draw the graphic novel panels and include dialogue.
This book has a powerful Afterward. Jen Wang reflects on her childhood and how she drew on her memories in order to write this book. This is such an important part of the book, and should not be missed!
There are so many ways to incorporate Stargazing into your Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop: Author’s Message, Identifying Theme, Point of View, Narrative Writing. In addition, Jen Wang shows what it is like to grow up in a Chinese community, however all students can relate to the characters, they just happen to be Chinese. This book is a great addition to your mentor texts, and to your classroom library.