Parachute Kids is a graphic novel that follows the early days of 10-year-old Feng-Li and her older brother and sister after their arrival in the United States. Parachute kids is a term that refers to children who are separated from their parents to settle in another country, the US in particular, by being cared for by family and friends who are already resident. So not only do the children experience the stress of a new place with new schools and a new language, they do it without their parents who return to their home countries to afford the new life for their children. The children are vulnerable to a number of predatory type behaviours and peoples as well as being anxious about drawing attention to themselves via the justice or immigration systems. In this graphic novel for middle grade readers, Tang recounts her own as well as many other stories of being a parachute kid.
Feng-Li is ten years old and has a brother Ke-Gang and a sister Jia-Xi. After her parents return to Taiwan a family friend agrees to supervise them but the load falls on the shoulders of Jia-Xi who learns she must study very hard for her SATs so that she can go to university with her new classmates. The pressure to feed her brother and sister, clothe them and continue studying preys on her and she faces several challenges in keeping them safe and under the radar of the police and immigration officers.
The artwork is naive and simple but effective in quickly telling the children’s story. Colour is used well to capture the different perspectives of each of the children and the difficulties they face. Some of the content may be considered a little older than middle grade, Ke-Gang’s sexuality, scam artists who steal Jia-Xi’s money but the author deals with these subtly. Younger readers will likely recognise the bullying and name calling and the fear of letting down their parents and so the novel itself is not too old for later age KS2 and early KS3.
It tells an important story of displacement and what it’s like to be feeling vulnerable in a foreign country. A classmate of Feng-Li’s is American Born Chinese (ABC) and her short story is equally interesting.
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