Coolies, by Yin – A picture book on the Transcontinental Railroad

Coolies Cover

This is a terrific story of how two young Chinese boys, Shek and Wong, come to America to earn money for their family. They go to work for the Central Pacific railroad company, work hard, have some adventures, and end up opening a shop in San Franciso.

There is some great information and wonderful pictures to build background – I would recommend this picture book to introduce or supplement your study of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Historical Highlights:

  • My favorite picture, and there are many terrific pictures by Sontpiet in this book, is a two page spread of a railroad camp. It is a terrific visual of how “busy” those areas were.
  • There is good information on how day to day work and life went on in the railroad camps.
  • Another terrific picture of the Chinese immigrants working in knee deep snow – plenty of conversation to have about working conditions.
  • The story ends shortly after the joining of the railroads in Utah.

The students thoroughly enjoyed the story, and we were able to put a human face on this important event in history. I used the sketch to stretch strategy to keep them engaged in the story. I modify it somewhat as follows:

I explain to students that their job is to visualize while I am reading, and to read as much from the pictures I project on the screen as they can. I stop about 1/4 of the way through the book and ask students to draw/sketch a picture of what they thought was most important. I also ask them to write a sentence about what they drew.

I only give them 3 minutes, so I tell them to draw/sketch quickly. Then I read the next quarter and repeat. In the center of the template I have them write the name of the book and author. I’m attaching the template I use to this post.

Sketch to Stretch Template

A lesson plan from the illustrator’s web site.


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