On April 17th, 1906, San Francisco residents carried on like it was any other day. Enrico Caruso sang in the opera and a huge roller-skating festival was set to take place. Little did those dwellers know that mere hours later their lives would be turned upside down as they faced one of the most deadly earthquakes in history. As the title of Laurence Yep’s work of historical fiction rightly states, The Earth Dragon Awakes.
Yep tells the story of this earthquake through the eyes of two young boys, Chin and Henry. Chin is a Chinese Immigrant whose father works as a servant for a wealthy banker and his family. Henry is the son of this wealthy banker. Despite cultural and economic differences, both characters bravely face catastrophes brought on by the earthquake and come to regard their otherwise ordinary fathers as heroes. In the end, they are reunited to speak to each other about their own tales of survival.
One of the many strong elements that stands out in this book is Yep’s use of the present tense in his writing. On his use of present tense, Yep writes, “When I wrote The Earth Dragon Awakes, I used the present tense to try to make readers feel as if they were experiencing the Great Earthquake and Fire moment to moment (Vardell 2008, 186). Booklist agrees and states, “the narration provides a you are there sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.”
Another element that stands out is Yep’s simple but very descriptive word choices. Most sentences are composed of a singular concise thought. Very rarely does he ever combine two thoughts to form a complex sentence. Although Yep does introduce some complex vocabulary at times, he mainly sticks to very simple word choices, which would make this book an excellent selection for a struggling or reluctant reader.
Even though the format of the writing is kept simple, Yep’s imagery and use of adjectives will create stunning images in the minds of his readers. On page twenty-four, as he describes the destruction, he writes, “cracks spread like crazy spidewebs around all of the wall” (Yep 2006, 24). He writes that black smoke “fans outward like hair,” (76) is “like a giant worm,” and “swallows the moon and the stars” (80).
Yep also does an excellent job of interspersing factual information with the plot details of the main characters. In the chapters that provide factual information, Yep broaches topics like tectonic plates, the Richter Scale, and specific data collected about the San Francisco Earthquake. For example, readers learn that the force of the earthquake was greater than the atom bomb that struck Hiroshima (18) and that the earthquake caused the big water mains to break in over three hundred places (50).
In addition to facts, readers will also pick up on several themes that run throughout the book. The most obvious theme is that of survival. Any child who has lived through (or knows someone who has lived through) a natural disaster will easily relate to all of the characters in the book. Other themes speak to the benefits of collaboratively helping others, making true friends despite cultural stereotypes, and learning to regard ordinary people as true heroes.
School Library Journal points out that “Yep’s research is exhaustive. He covers all the most significant repercussions of the event, its aftershocks, and days of devastating fires.” This is certainly true. In the “afterword” section located in the back of the book, readers learn that Yep has a very real connection to this historical event as his grandfather was a houseboy at the time, much like the fictional character, Ah Sing. In addition to numerous other facts about the earthquake, readers also learn in this section that Yep relied heavily upon the research of Gladys Hansen and Emmet Condon’s as presented in their book “Denial of Disaster.” Yep also provides readers with an extended reading list and with two websites that he deems “the most reliable” (113). The overall tone in this section is that Yep takes the process of searching for and using credible research very seriously. Readers can rest assured that what they are reading is authentic.
One of the websites that Yep suggests is quake.wr.usgs.gov/info/1906/. The use of this website would be a great way to enhance a library program. The website provides photos, an interview with a survivor, and eyewitness accounts that could be utilized in a book club or could be recommended to library patrons. Additionally, this website also provides access to a wealth of earthquake activities for kids. The interface is outlined below. A librarian could engage participants by taking an earthquake quiz available by clicking on the “puzzles & Games” icon or facilitate a discussion on any questions participants may have about earthquakes. The librarian could then compile the list, e-mail a geologist by clicking on “Ask a Geologist” icon, and follow up with answers during the next scheduled library event.
The Earth Dragon Awakes was nominated for a 2010 Sunshine State Young Readers’ Book Award and has received positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed November 8-11, 2013.
U.S. Geological Survey. 2013. “The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.” Acessed November 11, 2013. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906/18april/index.php
U.S. Geological Survey. 2013. “Earthquakes for Kids.” Accessed November 11, 2013. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/
Vardell, Sylvia. 2008. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0060008468