Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Iron Dragon Never Sleeps by Stephen Krensky

Historical fiction books need to pedal the line between fact and fiction without drifting too far into either lane. Krensky drifts a little too far into the fact lane. They are interesting facts to be sure, but they propel the story more-so than the characters which makes the pacing slow in parts.

Winnie has gone with her mother to visit her dad who is working on the transcontinental railroad in the town of Cisco. While there, she learns  how the Chinese workers are providing invaluable aid in building the transcontinental railroad, except no one seems to recognize the fact. They are treated unfairly by the owners of the railroad and the white  townspeople which leads them to go on strike. When Winnie makes a friend with a Chinese boy who is 10-years-old, she is not sure if she likes him. She has to decide if she wants to strike up a friendship with him based on others opinions or what she sees with her own eyes.

The family has nice dialogue with the dad teasing the daughter and the parents joking. I thought these sections were more authentic than the interactions between Winnie and the Chinese boy, Lee. Those sections seemed forced because the author was pushing his message of prejudice and intolerance. I wished more had been shown versus told about the injustice suffered by the Chinese workers. The author shows a little and tells a little. Winnie is going against quite a bit of built-in prejudice represented by the townspeople. Even her parents support the townspeople's negative view of Chinese people. It seems that she would really have to develop a deep friendship with Lee to risk disobedience and break away from mainstream beliefs as a 10-year-old. Maybe if she was presented as more strong-willed. The friendship seemed rushed to me but a young reader might disagree and not notice it at all.

Facts on how the Chinese different customs frightened people and their expertise in explosives and working as teams are peppered throughout this quick read. The characters don't think in great depth on issues but they do question why people act the way they do. The ending with the red kite adds a pleasant emotional pull to the story that I wished had been more evident in the beginning and middle; some happens with the family but that is about it. Grade 5 students who are studying immigrants and hardships faced in the United States during 1867 will get plenty of information in story. It would be a good resource for students studying this topic.

Reading Level 4.4
3 out of 5 Smileys

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