• It’s the birth date of Esphyr Slobodkina (1908-2002) Caps for Sale.
  • Happy birthday to fictional character Bilbo Baggins from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Hence, it is Hobbit Day.
  • It’s also Dear Diary Day. Read any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.
  • Hope you enjoy celebrating National White Chocolate Day!

September has been designated a month to be kind to editors and writers, which is always good advice. One of the writers and artists I have not mentioned enough on the Almanac, Gene Luen Yang, is our hero of the day. Those who have had a chance to meet this charismatic and charming creator in person will immediately find him someone easy to be kind to.

Most of Gene’s brilliant output, which includes Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese, was written for a teenage audience. But this year, he teamed up with Sonny Liew to craft a graphic novel for the eleven- to fourteen-year-old set called The Shadow Hero. The book’s backstory is fascinating: The Shadow Hero grew out of Gene’s lifelong passion for comic books, particularly the classic comics of the early part of the twentieth century. As a comics fan, he was excited to explore the work of Chu Hing, one of the first Asian Americans to publish comics, who eventually worked for Marvel. Gene had always been intrigued by the idea that superheroes hold particular power for minorities who face discrimination, and found evidence of this in Chu Hing’s story. Hing longed to create an Asian superhero, but his publishers prevented him from moving forward with this idea. After discovering Chu Hing’s World War II superhero, the Green Turtle, Gene honored his work by writing a more contemporary script for this Asian-American character.

In doing so, he has crafted a graphic novel that possesses all the wonderful classic sensibility of the early comics, without all of the stereotypes they often included. As the story begins, we meet the Tortoise, an ancient Chinese spirit who aligns himself with a young man headed for America. This young man is the father of Hank, our protagonist. In the city of San Incendio, Hank’s Chinese family tries to make its way. With a mother of an iron will and a mild-mannered father, who is a grocer, young Hank soon learns the way of the world, which includes extortion and gang violence. Then one day, his mother is saved by a true superhero, an event that gives her an idea for her son. She makes him an outfit and encourages him to become a superhero himself. After Hank’s father dies, the Tortoise’s spirit escapes his coffin and becomes the companion of Hank, a superhero-in-training.

Although filled with adventure and action, The Shadow Hero sheds light on the Asian-American experience. Like all of Gene Yang’s books, it both educates and entertains. His graphic novels always work on two levels: they keep the young reader turning the pages and open their eyes to history. Malaysian-born illustrator Sonny Liew’s artwork dazzles the eye and sweeps the story along. The Shadow Hero is therefore a perfect choice for both graphic novel fans and novices to the genre.

I am so grateful that this young and extremely talented author has turned his hand to crafting books for children and teens; adults and children alike have benefitted from his commitment, intelligence, and his wonderful sense of humor. So today “be kind” to yourself by picking up a copy of The Shadow Hero.

Here’s a page from The Shadow Hero:


Originally posted September 22, 2014. Updated for .

Tags: Asian American, History, Imagination, Multicultural
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Shadow Hero
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  1. Leda says:

    Perfect timing, Anita: by chance, it was announced this morning that Gene Luen Yang has received the ‘genius’ grant from the MacArthur Foundation!

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