A Magic Stick 

Gene Luen Yang explores the agonies of otherness.

Ethnic pride doesn't come easily when you're a middle-school bully magnet, when your teacher can't pronounce your name, and when she's not 100 percent certain that your family has never eaten dogs. In his wincingly honest book American Born Chinese — an American Library Association Printz Award winner and the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for a National Book Award — Oakland's Gene Luen Yang explores the agonies of otherness, even inserting a bucktoothed, grotesquely stereotyped Chinese kid named (say it out loud) Chin-Kee. Inspiration and the hard-won serenity of self-acceptance arrive from the sky in the form of the Monkey King, who in Chinese mythology performs astounding tricks and mischief while striving to be something much higher and holier than a mere primate. "I first heard his stories from my mom at bedtime when I was a kid," says Yang, who is now a dad himself — and a computer science teacher at a Catholic high school. "As I got older, I began to realize what a versatile character he is. Some folks read his story as a political allegory, others as a spiritual journey. You can look at it from all sorts of angles. In Asia, he's a phenomenon. There are Monkey King cartoons and comics and toys and lunchboxes. He's captured the imagination of an entire continent. He's a monkey who does kung fu and beats people up with a giant magical stick. What's not to like?" To mark Children's Book Week, Yang will read from American Born Chinese in the TweenZone of the Oakland Main Library (125 14th St., Oakland) at 11 a.m. on November 17. The author of several other books including The Rosary Comic Book, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, and Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks (for which he won a coveted Xeric Grant), he will also discuss "what drives a person to make comics" — which, judging from the graphic-novel genre in general, might have much to do with middle-school misery. OaklandLibrary.org

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