Review of I Am an American, by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin, illustrated by Julia Kuo

I Am an American

The Wong Kim Ark Story

written by Martha Brockenbrough
with Grace Lin
illustrated by Julia Kuo

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written January 14, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This nonfiction picture book simply and clearly explains an important case in the history of American immigration and citizenship.

I like the way it begins, showing a loving mother holding her son:

Long ago, a boy was born in an apartment above a shop in San Francisco.

His name was Wong Kim Ark — and he believed something that would change this country.

I am an American.

The book tells about the neighborhood in Chinatown where he lived and shows the boy growing up. It shows the community prospering. But then when hard times hit, many blamed the Chinese and laws were passed that Chinese people could not become citizens.

But Kim Ark was born in America and considered himself an American. His parents moved back to China, but the first time Kim Ark had ever been to China was when he visited them. Only seventeen, he went back to California and lived with his aunt and uncle, working as a cook.

Laws got stricter. He wanted to visit his parents again. To follow the law, he found three white witnesses to sign a document swearing he was born in California and was an American. But when he returned, authorities locked him up on a ship for more than four months. Friends had to file a lawsuit to win his freedom — and his case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The book makes this decision interesting and talks about both sides of the argument — with a happy result. The last page of the main text shows children of many different skin tones running toward the viewer with the Golden Gate Bridge behind them.

But Kim Ark’s victory means that today, every child born in the United States and its territories is an American, too…
no matter what language your parents speak,
what you look like,
or what you believe about God.

If you’re born in the United States or its territories, you belong here, and it’s your right to call yourself American.
It’s your right to call this home.

This is a lovely presentation of a complicated topic, presented in an engaging way for children.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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