Unswept Graves

Author: Black, Robert

Subjects: American History; Adventure; Immigration; Chinese Americans

Age: 12, 13, 14, 15

Grade: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

ISBN: 978-0-88092-903-5

Order code: 9035

Price: $14.99
Website price: $10.00

Also an iBook from iTunes

Class sets: 10 or more: $7.00 each.
Order code: 9035S

Unswept Graves Cover

"This is a charming, highly imaginative, and inventive book that is equally well-written and well-researched." – China Insight

"I couldn't put this book down and kept getting in trouble for reading in class and at dinner! It is interesting to find out what life was really like for Chinese people in America, as you are inside the head of one. A very good book." – Rosie, age 12

Unswept Graves is a gripping story that starts in the present day in a small Nebraskan town about to celebrate its annual Founders’ Day. The founders were said to include young Jasmine Wu’s great-great-grandparents, Charlie and Hannah Fong. Jasmine and her friend Oz get to find out the Fongs’ story when they are suddenly and magically transported by her ancestors’ mysterious pendant back in time to the Chinatown of San Francisco in the late 1890s.  

They find out that it was a dangerous, brutal time to be Chinese, especially for young girls. Jasmine is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Oz has to dress as a boy to rescue her and get her to the shelter of the Mission House. They meet Charlie Fong, and somehow they have to make sure that the future happens. In the end, the founders and ancestors are honored as they should be, and Jasmine discovers her heritage.

The title refers to the traditional Chinese festival of Ching Ming, or "Grave Sweeping Day,” when families pay tribute to their ancestors and tend to their family gravesites. Author Robert Black says his purpose in writing the book was “to give readers a taste of what life used to be like—and an experience of being there. I hope too they will learn the same lesson that Jasmine learns during her trip to the past about the challenges and hardships people had to face and the determination it took to survive all that.”

There is a supporting website showing contemporary photographs and footage of Chinatown, as well as a bibliography for further reading.

Robert Black’s research into the life of Chinese immigrants revealed shocking anti-Chinese prejudice in the U.S. at the time and also the dangerous work of rescuing slave girls by the Presbyterian Mission Home in San Francisco. The home still exists on Sacramento Street; it is now Cameron House, a Chinese community center.

The author’s previous novel is Liberty Girl, set in Baltimore and based on his grandmother’s diaries about growing up part German at the end of World War I.

Review:

"This is a charming, highly imaginative, and inventive book that is equally well-written and well-researched.... It introduces to young adult readers a largely-unknown aspect of Chinese-American history that takes off first in Nebraska. How many books are there about the Chinese in Nebraska? Probably no others. The Chinese-American experience in the Midwest is largely, albeit not totally, ignored in fiction.

"One of the particular delights of this book is that although Jasmine and Oz are thrust into the past, at all times they are aware of being from the future.... Their determined 21st-century American responses to 19th-century situations deftly reveal the difference between the accepted social place of women then and now. At the same time, we are given a view of 19th-century horse-and-buggy life and the vicissitudes of Chinese immigrants in the lawless American West.

"Several stories are woven into this narrative: Chinese-American history, the plight of mixed-race children, abuse of women, positive interactions between Chinese and Caucasians in 19th-century California, missionary work among immigrants, and life in small-town America. And the narrative is, if not totally believable (unless we believe we can go back to the past), totally captivating." – Raymond Lum, China Insight

"This is a charming, highly imaginative, and inventive book that is equally well-written and well-researched." – China Insight

"I couldn't put this book down and kept getting in trouble for reading in class and at dinner! It is interesting to find out what life was really like for Chinese people in America, as you are inside the head of one. A very good book." – Rosie, age 12

Unswept Graves is a gripping story that starts in the present day in a small Nebraskan town about to celebrate its annual Founders’ Day. The founders were said to include young Jasmine Wu’s great-great-grandparents, Charlie and Hannah Fong. Jasmine and her friend Oz get to find out the Fongs’ story when they are suddenly and magically transported by her ancestors’ mysterious pendant back in time to the Chinatown of San Francisco in the late 1890s.  

They find out that it was a dangerous, brutal time to be Chinese, especially for young girls. Jasmine is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Oz has to dress as a boy to rescue her and get her to the shelter of the Mission House. They meet Charlie Fong, and somehow they have to make sure that the future happens. In the end, the founders and ancestors are honored as they should be, and Jasmine discovers her heritage.

The title refers to the traditional Chinese festival of Ching Ming, or "Grave Sweeping Day,” when families pay tribute to their ancestors and tend to their family gravesites. Author Robert Black says his purpose in writing the book was “to give readers a taste of what life used to be like—and an experience of being there. I hope too they will learn the same lesson that Jasmine learns during her trip to the past about the challenges and hardships people had to face and the determination it took to survive all that.”

There is a supporting website showing contemporary photographs and footage of Chinatown, as well as a bibliography for further reading.

Robert Black’s research into the life of Chinese immigrants revealed shocking anti-Chinese prejudice in the U.S. at the time and also the dangerous work of rescuing slave girls by the Presbyterian Mission Home in San Francisco. The home still exists on Sacramento Street; it is now Cameron House, a Chinese community center.

The author’s previous novel is Liberty Girl, set in Baltimore and based on his grandmother’s diaries about growing up part German at the end of World War I.

Review:

"This is a charming, highly imaginative, and inventive book that is equally well-written and well-researched.... It introduces to young adult readers a largely-unknown aspect of Chinese-American history that takes off first in Nebraska. How many books are there about the Chinese in Nebraska? Probably no others. The Chinese-American experience in the Midwest is largely, albeit not totally, ignored in fiction.

"One of the particular delights of this book is that although Jasmine and Oz are thrust into the past, at all times they are aware of being from the future.... Their determined 21st-century American responses to 19th-century situations deftly reveal the difference between the accepted social place of women then and now. At the same time, we are given a view of 19th-century horse-and-buggy life and the vicissitudes of Chinese immigrants in the lawless American West. 

"Several stories are woven into this narrative: Chinese-American history, the plight of mixed-race children, abuse of women, positive interactions between Chinese and Caucasians in 19th-century California, missionary work among immigrants, and life in small-town America. And the narrative is, if not totally believable (unless we believe we can go back to the past), totally captivating." – Raymond Lum, China Insight

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