Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cockroach Cooties - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Yep, Laurence. 2000. Cockroach cooties. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0-7868-0487-4

Plot Summary
In this story about two brothers from Chinatown, an older brother must defend his younger brother against a bully. In doing so, the bully decides to make the two brothers his daily prey. One day, the brothers discover the bully’s fear of bugs and are able to capitalize on the concept of “cockroach cooties.” In the end, they make a new friend and are able to better appreciate each other.

Critical Analysis
This is a universal story of brotherhood and of bully versus victim. It is not a book of great literary merit but it is one that many readers will be able to relate to and enjoy. And, while it’s universality could place the story in any setting using any characters, this particular story provides some insight into the Chinese-American culture of Chinatown.

From this book, the reader learns that birthdays are celebrated with banquets where all of the family gathers to eat and enjoy each others company. Banquet food consists of sparkling cider, winter melon soup or shark’s fin soup, paper-wrapped chicken, steamed fish in black bean sauce (fish cheeks and eyeballs are a treat), and a prawn course. However, the birthday cake is not a part of the traditional banquet if dining at a traditional restaurant, must be brought in from elsewhere. Of course, the characters in the story also eat cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, and spaghetti.

In school, the main characters are taught English, math, and history by nuns but then have an hour of Chinese school where they learn Chinese language arts and history from Miss Lee who wears traditional Chinese dresses and has no problem telling a student he is stupid or using a ruler if he gets the answer wrong.

Overall, this is a good book that gives a little insight into the Chinese American culture while teaching readers that looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective can help you get through the situation with a better feeling.

Professional Reviews
From Catherine Andronik (Booklist, May 1, 2000 (Vol. 96, No. 17))
Readers who remember brothers Teddy and Bobby from Later, Gator (1997) will welcome their return here. The brothers are still very different and frequently at odds with each other, but this time they grow closer as they combine forces against a common enemy: Arnie, the school bully. In danger of getting pummeled to a pulp, insect-loving Bobby finds Arnie's weak spot--a fear of cockroaches. Through Bobby, Teddy is introduced to the neighborhood entomologist, as well as to Hercules the pet roach. Bobby ultimately defeats Arnie, not with fists, but with imagination and psychology. But, as in so many of Yep's books, the point is not so much getting even as breaking down barriers: the brothers uncover a grim reason for Arnie's fears and fierceness, and initiate a cautious friendship. A few scenes seem unfocused, and this can't compare to Yep's more mature novels, but for readers in lower grades, this puts bugs and mean bullies against an unusual cultural background. Children need not be familiar with the earlier book to enjoy this one, though they will probably seek out the older title to find out about the alligator Teddy mentions several times. Category: Middle Readers. 2000, Hyperion, $15.99 and $16.49. Gr. 3-5.

From Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June 2000 (Vol. 53, No. 10))
Teddy, older brother to Bobby, wisely tries to keep out of the way of bully “Arnie-zilla,” but when Bobby incites Arnie’s wrath, Teddy reluctantly steps in. Teddy is desperate to avoid a physical confrontation with Arnie, but it isn’t until Bobby discovers the bully’s secret fear (involving insects of all kinds, cockroaches in particular, and some cookies with a secret ingredient) that a truce is declared. Chinese-American brothers Bobby and Teddy are cozily ensconced in their family circle. Narrator Teddy learns to appreciate his pesty younger brother, and their developing closeness is affectionately presented. The writing is occasionally choppy, and the transitions between incidents are less than smooth, but the interactions between the characters have the truthful ring of real conversations overheard; the final truce between brothers and bully is believably if somewhat imaginatively accomplished. The title alone will be enough to attract middle-grade readers of a certain humor, and they may be surprised at Yep’s ability to make even “Arnie-zilla” sympathetic. Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 2000, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2000, Hyperion, 135p, $15.99 and $16.49. Grades 3-5.

This story could be used in a study of insects and/or spiders. However, it more readily lends itself to the study of point of view and perspective. Not only does it give examples within the text of seeing things from another point of view, it more importantly urges the reader to always be thinking outside themselves and to be more understanding of others in the process.

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