My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

Written and Illustrated by: Kam Mak

Before Reading

Explore Illustrations

My Chinatown is a collection of poems about a young boy in New York's Chinatown. Talk to your child about what s/he can glean from the front and back covers as well as the illustrations throughout the book. Ask questions like:

Make Observations.

What do you notice on this cover?

Make Predictions.

What do you think the title "My Chinatown" means?

What do you think will happen in this story?


Activate Prior Knowledge

Discuss any poems that your child has read in the past and what they were about. Tell your child that this book is made up of poems about a young boy and his Chinese heritage. Ask how s/he anticipates these poems will be similar or different from the ones s/he has read in the past.


As You Read

Figures of Speech

Allow your child to appreciate the figures of speech in the poems like similes and metaphors. For example, after reading, "But I don't want to got school, where the English words taste like metal in my mouth", say, "That is a simile. Do you know what a simile is? A simile is when you compare one thing to another using the words 'like' and 'as'.  What do you think he means when he says that?Another simile is 'He is as brave as a lion.'" Help him/her come up with more examples of similes to ensure that s/he understands the concept.

Make Connections

Talk to your child about how hard it would be to move to a new country using his/her own life. Ask, "How do you think the boy felt when he had to move from China to America? Have we ever moved? If so, what was it like? If not, how do you think you would feel if we did? Why would you feel that way?"

After Reading

Summarize and Interpret

Discuss the story once you are through with questions like:

Which poem was your favorite? Why was that one your favorite?

How did the boy feel in the beginning of the book? What about at the end? 

What are some things that the boy finds in Chinatown?

What did you learn about Chinese culture from this story?

Discuss Your Family's Heritage

Talk to your child about your family's own heritage and any traditions and holidays you may observe that help you maintain ties to your homeland. 

Activity: Poem About Your Favorite Place During Your Favorite Season

The little boy in this story goes through a year's worth of experiences in Chinatown. Help your child write a poem about his/her favorite place in his/her favorite season. Be sure to include similes and metaphors to help your child practice using these figures of speech. Try following this general structure to help your child construct his/her poem:

I love {favorite place} in {favorite season}

{Description of the place using colors, smells, sounds and people}

When I am in/at {favorite place} I feel like {simile}

{Describe a past experience}


Check This Out

Do some research on Chinese culture and put on your own Chinese New Year, complete with decorations, foods and Chinese phrases! Use resources like the Huffington Post and iVillage to help inform your preparation and celebration.