Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060275243.
B. Plot Summary
On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, a catastrophic earthquake hit San Francisco. Two boys, one a prominent banker's son and one the son of the Chinese house boy, discover real life heroes who emerge from the rubble of the quake.
C. Critical Analysis
The Earth Dragon Awakes is not a picture book, but photos of the aftermath of the quake are included at the end of the book along with an afterword by the author discussing more history of San Francisco's recovery. Additional books are also suggested with two websites for readers to explore.
Since the novel is about a major historical disaster, cultural markers are revealed through characters' behaviors and conversations. Ah Sing is a grown man, but is employed as a "house boy" who cleans cooks, and helps around the house for the Travis's family, a prominent family in the community. Attitudes of Americans in early 1900s San Francisco are revealed when Chin, Ah Sing's son reflects that "The Americans make is difficult for Chinese man to bring his family to America." Chin remembered how when he immigrated to America, the "...immigration officials spent a week asking him questions. If he had made a mistake, they would have assumed he was lying. They would have sent him back to China."
Other cultural markers are the description of Chinatown in San Francisco where Ah Sing and Chin live. Chin says he and his father could live with the Travis family, but Chin said they live in Chinatown because his father "...doesn't want Chin to forget he's Chinese."
Skin color, facial features, and language are not brought out in the novel; it is more the lifestyle of the Chinese and the American attitudes of the time that are mentioned, though Chin and Henry, The Travis's son, are good friends.
One final slap of discrimination towards the Chinese is the refusal to allow the Chinese quake survivors to stay in Golden Gate Park with the American survivors.
The Earth Dragon Awakes will be an exciting novel for reluctant readers to explore. Chapters are short but maintain interest. The novel lends itself well to encouraging further research of earthquakes or other natural disasters.
D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal Yep looks at the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 from two points of view. Chin is a young Chinese immigrant whose father is a houseboy for a prominent banker and his family. He has become friendly with young Henry Travis, the banker's son, through their interest in low-brow but exciting penny dreadfuls. The stories depict heroic people doing heroic things and, while both boys appreciate their fathers, they certainly do not regard them as heroes. Not, that is, until the Earth Dragon roars into consciousness one spring morning, tearing the city asunder and making heroes out of otherwise ordinary men. Yep's research is exhaustive. He covers all the most significant repercussions of the event, its aftershocks, and days of devastating fires, and peppers the story with interesting true-to-life anecdotes. The format is a little tedious one chapter visits Henry's affluent neighborhood, the next ventures to Chin's home in Chinatown, and back again and the ordinary heroes theme is presented a bit heavy-handedly. Throughout the text, the boys compare their fathers to Wyatt Earp. But the story as a whole should appeal to reluctant readers. Its natural disaster subject is both timely and topical, and Yep weaves snippets of information on plate tectonics and more very neatly around his prose.
Booklist On the evening of April 17, 1906, neither eight-year-old Henry nor his friend Chin is aware that the earth beneath their San Francisco homes is shifting. Devotees of "penny dreadfuls," both boys long for excitement, not their fathers' ordinary routine lives. When the earthquake shakes the city and a firestorm breaks out, Henry and his parents scramble in the chaos and battle the fire, but must ultimately evacuate their home. Chin and his father survive the collapse of their Chinatown tenement, and flee to the ferry through the debris and turmoil. In the midst of catastrophe, the boys realize that their fathers are real-life heroes. Henry and Chin's stories are told in alternating chapters with a few interruptions for the insertion of earthquake information. Told in the present tense, the narration provides a "you are there" sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.
Match this fiction novel with non-fiction books on earthquakes. Compare this earthquake to the one that hit nearby San Francisco in 1989.