To enter Billye Toussaint’s classroom is to enter a zone of comfort, from the thoughtfully crafted discussion nooks lined with throw rugs and pillows to her welcoming smile and disposition. It’s a classroom you simply want to have a seat in and visit for a while.
During class on Wednesday, January 22, Toussaint prepared class IV students for their upcoming text, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, by presenting primary sources from the 1800s. They looked at images of “yellow peril” propaganda and discussed the implications behind examples from the English-Chinese phrasebook. Students first worked in small groups to analyze the images and then presented their analyses to the class for further discussion.
“The purpose of the activity,” said Toussaint, “was for students to have the opportunity to interpret for themselves some of the materials that were circulated at the time in order to understand the historical background behind some of the stereotypes that the book references and the concept of ‘the other’ that we have been exploring in class.”
Of American Born Chinese, Toussaint says, “It is a fascinating text in that it pulls together mythology, American History, stereotypes and the adolescent drive to fit in at all costs. The fact that it is a graphic novel means that it can move quickly. It is easy for it to turn into a page-turner even though the author is playing around with graphic novel elements, such as line weight, perspective, and color to reinforce meaning.”