Girl in Translation
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but also herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. Watch a Video
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Consider this Chinese saying and what you know of Chinese culture and Chinese immigrants. Do you think this will be a book about a girl having the strength to choose her own road and fight against the storm, or will she let fate carry her along the road it chose for her?
When the narrator says that something in the relationship between Ma and Aunt Paula was exposed, "something naked and throbbing under the skin of polite talk," she means:
The "Golden Mountain" is an allusion. For over 150 years Chinese have been immigrating to America to seek a better life. Many of the first Chinese immigrants came during the California Gold Rush. San Francisco was known as the "Gold Mountain." America symbolizes a place of freedom and prosperity.
Appearance is of great value to Aunt Paula. Which of the following IS NOT a way that Aunt Paula tries to make herself look important?
In America, if a person's sister had changed the plans so drastically and brought him or her to live in a place like the one Kim has described, the last thing he or she would say is thank you. Ma thanks her sister because of the Chinese culture and traditions surrounding familial obligations and respect for elders. Pay attention to the conflict and stress that occurs throughout the book because of these cultural traditions.
The reader can see from Ma's tone and her actions that asking Kim to come to work with her in the factory was a difficult decision. What beliefs or values motivate her to ask?
Throughout the book the author uses this creative spelling of English words to show Kim's mis-hearing and misunderstanding of the English Language. As the novel progresses, pay attention to the way the language evolves as Kim grows and matures.
The customs and expectations in the American school are different from what Kim was used to in China. Which of the following IS NOT an example she encounters on the first day?
Manhattan Chinatown sweatshops emerged in the 1940s as the cheap rent of Chinatown attracted thousands of migrant workers. There, workers are paid by the piece rather than hourly; in the early 1980s, it was as little as eight cents a piece (one 90-year-old woman was found working for a dollar an hour). That was also the point at which the Reagan government took a strong interest in prosecuting. The sweatshops have never really gone away, thriving on energetic labor from China looking to send money back home. At $.80 a piece minus taxes, imagine how much work a person would have to do to make enough to survive and support a family. Information from Business Pundit; Filed in archive BAD BUSINESS, ETHICS by GERRI on MARCH 29, 2011 (This annotation contains a link)
What is emphasized through the description of the factory and the workers?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
This is Puccini singing the same song Caruso sang on the old record Kim found. Listen to it and read the captions. Consider why Ma saved this. How does this song affect your mood in conjunction with this part of Kim's story? (This annotation contains a video)
Pa died when Kim was very young. As she reviews the photograph, how does she characterize him?
View the site below that briefly describes the importance of different values in the Chinese culture. Education is held in high regard. Ma's parents were intellectuals and died for that in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Ma and Pa are also highly educated. In China, one might say, “A book holds a house of gold.” This is because no accomplishment is considered more esteemed than a high level of education. This value can be traced to the Confucian concept that “he who excels in learning can be an official.” Students attend school six days per week and often study late into the night. They consider this their duty to show honor to the parents and family. Consider how Kim is feeling now and the burden she will take on for her family, her Ma. (This annotation contains a link)
How has school changed for Kim in America?
The American culture and the Chinese culture are very different. Kim was taught never to touch another person without permission. Explain how culture gets in the way of her experiencing the regular American games of young students.
Below is a video of students who came to America to study. They are answering questions about their dreams for their future and the way they have been changed in America. Watch and listen to some of their comments and consider if Kim is having a similar experience and if she is developing the same dreams and aspirations. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Kim determine the value of objects?
The site below gives a brief history of child labor laws in the United States. It is interesting that in 1938 Federal regulation of child labor was achieved in Fair Labor Standards Act. For the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children are regulated by federal law. Consider why this is not applying to Kim. (This annotation contains a link)
Kim always knew that they were poor, but she realized that she needed to keep her factory work a secret one day. Which answer best describes why she makes this decision?
Remember,the Chinese cultural distinction of the attention given to education and the need to be number one in school when considering why Ma allows Kim to go to Annette's house after school. Later she will not allow her to go just for dinner. Consider why Ma would make this decision and then read on to see if you were correct.
Each paycheck, Uncle Bob takes several piles of money. Which of the following are Kim and her mother NOT paying to Uncle Bob and Aunt Paula each paycheck?
Watch the video below about point of view and cultural perspective. What cultural lens is this book being told through, and why is it significant? (This annotation contains a video)
What does Ma's gesture of gifting the drumstick to Mr. Bogart say about her character?
What does Kim's gesture of gifting her panda bear, her only real possession, to Matt say about her character?
Watch this History Channel video about the Chinese New Year. Consider how Kim's celebration compares to what is being described in the video. Why is this such an important holiday for the Chinese? (This annotation contains a video)
Chapters 1-4 Quiz
Why is Mr. Al, Kim and Ma's only friend, leaving the area?
Aunt Paula's character has been one of a person concerned only with appearances and her own well being. After learning her circumstance, do you feel differently about her? Watch the video below to hear more about the reasons for arranged marriages and how it affects families. (This annotation contains a video)
There is a developing theme among the immigrant workers in this factory. Which of the following do you see in both Matt's family and Kim's?
Consider how you see the themes of dedication and ambition being developed by Kim? What is the lesson she is teaching us about dedication and ambition? Watch this video to help you understand better how themes are developed. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the gift and the purpose of the gift that Ma gave to Mr. Al as he left?
Watch the video below about characterization. Consider how the characters have developed so far in the story. How does this interaction change or support the characterization and development of Kim? (This annotation contains a video)
Why has Mrs. LaGuardia called Kim to the office?
Kim now understands why Luke did not beat her up the day of the big "fight." What does she realize about American culture from this instance?
Why doesn't Ma go to the interview for the school with Kim?
This statement brings the reader forward in time by letting the reader know that Kim figured out later on in life that the private school wanted her there because of her circumstance, not in spite of it. They were completely aware that she was poor and had minimal English skills, but they needed to accept minorities, and they also wanted someone with the potential she had in math.
Based on Kim's description of Harrison Prep, what is one word she would use to describe it?
Kim allowed herself to get caught up in the idea of attending this school, not ever thinking about the money. Now she is realizing the reality. They are only offering a partial scholarship. She will never be able to pay for any of this school. They have a hard enough time purchasing their necessities. Kim feels naive and hopeless.
What does the standard comment students wrote in Kim's autograph book tell the reader about her?
Kim has been awarded a full scholarship to Harrison Prep. Ma makes the comment that this is the beginning of a new direction for them. Consider what this means for the family and how it could affect their future. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Aunt Paula's tone change within this conversation about Kim getting into Harrison Prep?
What is revealed about Aunt Paula from this experience?
This paragraph is loaded with imagery that touches many senses. Reread this section and imagine what it must have been like to work all summer long under these circumstances. What quality does a person who continues to work in these circumstances display?
Watch the video explaining symbols and consider what the violin symbolizes here. Are there other symbols in the book? (This annotation contains a video)
Analyze how the school uniform could be a metaphor for all of the things Kim has had to "translate" since coming to America.
What problem is Kim having with gym class before it even begins?
With all of the pressures people hear about in the Chinese culture, isn't it interesting to see what it looks like for Americans from an outsider. Kim looks at Americans and sees that not only do they need to have good grades, they are also expected to play a sport, play an instrument, have great teeth and look attractive. To Kim, this seems like so much pressure. What accounts for these differences?
Kim realizes that the world of Harrison Preparatory School is completely foreign to her, as are many cultural aspects of school, clothing, sayings, etc. Analyze how the title of the book corresponds to the experiences Kim is having at this new school.
As Kim reflects on her first day of school, the reader can see that she feels a little
Learning English as a 6th grader must have been difficult. Kim does not have a special instructor to help her learn English as a second language, even at her fancy private school. Her tutor, although nice, is only helping correct what she hears in conversation. Consider all of the things that are a stuggle for Kim: the current events, the class lectures, reading assignments, and the fact that her mother is not able to assist her at home. What theme can you create for this book based on this struggle Kim is having?
Why won't Kim tell the teachers that she is being teased about her underwear?
Think back to what happened with Luke at the other school. Use this information and Kim's comments here to predict what you think will happen with Greg. (This annotation contains a video)
How did Kim use her new knowledge of American Culture to stop the teasing at school?
Annette and Kim are both having difficulty fitting in at Harrison. What struggle do they have in common?
It is interesting that Kim and Ma do not tell Aunt Paula that she has gotten and is getting better in school. Aunt Paula's actions and comments, at the dinner she held, exposed even further the type of person she really is; jealous and self righteous. Consider how Kim's success would affect Aunt Paula.
Kim struggles with the idea that she cannot have a social life. She is dedicated to helping her mother and helping her family survive. She is flattered at being invited to go to the show with everyone, but knows that her responsibilities at home must come first. Can you think of a theme tied to this section of text based on ambition, family, or dedication?
How did Kim feel when she initially picked up the "note" from Tammy?
Chapters 5-7 Quiz
Who stood up for Kim when she was being accused of cheating?
When Kim says, "I grew into the space Ma's foreignness left vacant," which theme is she supporting?
Kim is still placing value on items based on the number of pieces she will have to complete at work to pay for something. She is paid 1.5 cents per skirt completed in the factory. That means that this jacket costs approximately $300.00. In other words, 1.5x20000=30000 cents or 300 dollars. Will Kim ever be able to afford a jacket like this to fit in with her peers?
Reread the highlighted portion of text and identify the tone.
What is the secret that Kim and Annette share?
Kim and Ma's job finishing and bagging at the factory pays as follows: 1.5 cents per skirt. For Ma means 120 pieces per hour, which equals $1.80 per hour. A ten hour day would net $18.00 per day. This is hardly enough to live on. Kim is able to to complete more. She finishes 500 pieces per hour which equals $7.50 an hour. These meager wages are why Kim takes her responsibility of helping her mother so seriously. Can you imagine living on this income?
When Matt asks Ma to come with him to see the "Liberty Goddess" on Sunday, what is emphasized about his personality?
What are Aunt Paula's motivations in the way she handles Mr. Pak getting burned by the steamer?
Explain how a bamboo knot is a metaphor for Kim. Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
This is what a Kuan Yin with several arms would look like. Matt's was carved in jade and gold. This is very valuable to someone in the Chinese culture, as it protects the wearer from evil and helps those in need. Imagine what they had to go through to get this item. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Ma mean when she says she is responsible?
This is Chopin's Nocturne in A flat. Listen to the music and consider how the music contrasts to the life Ma and Kim have now. What does the music symbolize to Ma? (This annotation contains a video)
Why does the school want Kim to take a combined oral placement exam conducted by the entire science and math department?
What does Kim mean by, "I was too conscious of the dangers of sticking out your neck?" Use examples from the text to support your answer.
Watch the video below about the Cultural Revolution in China. This began when Mao and his communist party took over the government. Somewhere between 20 and 30 billion Chinese died as a result. Kim's grandparents, Ma's parents, were sentenced to death during this time period and sent their children away to escape it. Kim feels that there is no way she can join in this protesting and claiming she is a Communist after all of the history with Communism in her family. (This annotation contains a video)
See the link below to understand the naturalization process. The requirements for reading, passing a test, knowing laws, not to mention a fee will make this an extremely difficult process. There will need to be hours allowed for studying in order to prepare for this assessment. Knowing this, predict if you think Ma will be able to pass. Consider what her life is like and the time and conditions she has to study. (This annotation contains a link)
Why is it so important to Kim that Ma pass the Naturalization Test?
What does the smell of the perfume symbolize to Kim?
Kim is getting tired from the "exhausting cycle of her life." She finds an escape. What is it?
Park is mentally handicapped and is generally ignored in the factory. It is a shameful quality in Chinese culture, especially with the older generation. Kim shows her sensitivity and compassion by sharing her escape, the magazine, with Park. He carries around a toy motorcycle, a 1934 Indian Chief Motorcycle, and Kim reads him articles about it. Notice the reaction of the other people in the factory. (This annotation contains an image)
What was the outcome of the science and math oral exam?
So, it turns out that Matt's father is not dead; instead, he is here in this illegal gambling den gambling away and earning money. Pay attention to the relationship between father and son, and carefully read Kim's assessment of the situation. Why do you think Matt would bring her here to see this?
How does Kim use her math skills while making this visit with Matt?
Explain how the final statement highlighted in the text is ironic.
Kim realizes a little late that she was in love with Matt. She uses the simile, I should have "snatched him up like a ripe mango at the market," to express that it is now too late for her. You must get fruit when it is ripe. If you wait too long, it is no longer good, and you cannot get it because it is either thrown out, or someone else picks it up. She waited too long to let him know she liked him and missed her chance. Someone else picked him up instead.
Why does Curt call Kim?
What was the effect of Curt asking Kim for help?
This conversation between Curt and Kim reveals many things about their personalities. Although Kim wants to be free and be like everyone else, she does not like the idea of choice. She also expresses herself to Curt and lets him see a vulnerable side to herself when she says that she does not understand what the other girls do. Reread this section and think about what Curt says to her and what she says to him. How would you characterize each of them?
How does culture affect Kim's opportunity to form a better relationship?
Chapters 8-10 Quiz
Aside from Mr. Al, this is the only person in the area who has been truly kind to Ma and Kim. He recognized that they were in dire need of the oven for warmth. Consider the qualities this man possessed that made Kim say she would like to have had a man like this for her father.
What qualities does Kim show in the situation with the bullies and Park?
Another book about the Chinese culture in America is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother written by Amy Chua. Her parents were Chinese immigrants, and she wanted to continue the Chinese parenting for her own children. One of those rules included no sleep overs. In the book she explains that this is a rule for two reasons. First, because there are better things that children can and should be doing with their time, like practicing their instruments or studying. Second, because there is no reason to leave their own home and sleep in another place with another family. Consider how these rules affect a child growing up in America. How has it affected Kim in this book? (This annotation contains a link)
What will Kim be doing on her "one night of freedom?"
Explain what Matt means when he says this to Kim.
How did the inspectors instill fear in the children when they came to the factory?
The author uses a simile to express the way that Curtis looks at Kim when she enters the party. We know that this is a different look than his usual flirtatious one, not only because it says that, but because of the simile itself. She says that he looks at her, "as intensely as if I were a piece of sculpture." This alone allows us to understand the respect and awe he is using in looking at her since he places so much value on art. Predict where this relationship may be going.
How did Kim do on the SAT?
Kim refers to Curt as an "inoculation" against Matt. Consider what she means by this use of metaphor. She is acting as if they are a couple; she does not claim to be in love with him, but she views him as a way to keep herself from being hurt by the fact that the one she truly loves is with another person. I wonder how Curt would react to the entire truth.
Why does Annette doubt Kim when she says she cannot attend the opening performance of Our Town?
What does Annette's reaction make you think of her? Does Kim's decision to keep her life a secret make sense now that we see how Annette reacts? The image below is what the house could have looked like from the outside. Contrast this to the description of Annette's home. (This annotation contains an image)
Kim and Mrs. Avery's definition of "not in optimal condition" are very different. Kim feels if there is heat and no animals running around, it is optimal. How has Annette possibly saved Kim and Ma?
Why did Matt go to the school?
Matt is in a desperate state now. His mother has passed away and he is now in charge of his handicapped brother, Park. He has a hard time envisioning his future. Considering his state of mind, are his intentions with Kimberly pure right now? Make a prediction about their relationship in the future.
The total Cost of Attendance for attending Yale in 2014-2015 is $63,250, which includes tuition ($45,800), room ($7,800), board ($6,200), and books and personal expenses ($3,450). Total cost of attendance (not only tuition) is used to calculate a student's need-based financial aid award. Yale meets 100% of demonstrated need. In recent years, the average Yale Scholarship (a need-based grant) has been $41,250 for students on financial aid and roughly 52% of Yale students receive need-based financial aid. Imagine how hard Kim had to work to get to this point in her life. Is this a turning point in their lives? (This annotation contains a link)
Many feelings and emotions came out in this scene between Ma, Kim, and Aunt Paula. What themes revolving around family, decisions, and determination can be supported through this scene?
Matt is saying that the reason he was not with Kim earlier was because he thought that she did not want a factory worker; that she was above him. Remember this in the upcoming scenes and consider if these were his real motivations.
Earlier, you had to write about this statement and what it meant. Now that the characters are explaining it, were you right before?
Why would Matt have a problem following Kim to Yale?
What happened to Park after his mother died?
This look into Kim's thoughts provides the reader with an even better look at what an independent, strong, young woman she has become. This can be a good and bad thing. Consider this statement and then think, 'Will this make her a lonely woman in the future?'.
Matt's views on a traditional family appear to be different than Kim's views for her future. What is bothering him?
Think about what you have learned about foreshadowing. What is Kim saying about their future relationship in the highlighted text? Can you think of another instance of foreshadowing from the book?
Who does Kim go to first about her pregnancy?
Why is Kim hesitant to tell Matt about the baby?
What lessons can be learned from Ma's explanation of her life decisions as they relate to Pa and Bob?
Kim has become a pediatric heart surgeon. Below is a link to this condition that she is discussing with a patient now. Considering all that she went through, are you surprised that she made it to this place in life? Consider the qualities a person would need to overcome the obstacles that she did. (This annotation contains a link)
What does giving her card to Mr. Ho imply about Kim?
Where are Matt and Park working now?
Why didn't Kim ever tell Matt about the baby, and how does he feel about it?
This is a Ducati motorcycle. What do you think this symbolizes to Kim? (This annotation contains a link)
Did the speaker make the right decisions? Support your thoughts with evidence from the text.
Listen to "Sola, Furtiva, Al Tempio" and consider how the lyrics relate to themes from the book. (This annotation contains a link)
Chapters 11-14 Quiz