FATHER’S CHINESE OPERA has been chosen as the honor title for the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category.
Father Chinese Opera is a picture book written and illustrated by Chicago artist Rich Lo. The story is loosely based on Rich’s childhood experience in Hong Kong. The book features brilliant color illustrations along with simple and poignant text. The book points out that dreams can be realized with commitment and determination. The book was published by Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing in New York City, and represented by Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates.
Interviews and Reviews
By: Annette Bay Pimentel / Illustrated by: Rich Lo
The true story of a Chinese American mountain man who helped inspire the creation of the National Park Service.
Tie Sing was born in the mountains. The mountains were in his blood. But because he was of Chinese descent at a time in America when to be Chinese meant working in restaurants or laundries, Tie Sing’s prospects were limited. But he had bigger plans. He began cooking for mapmakers and soon built a reputation as the best trail cook in California.
When millionaire Stephen Mather began his quest to create a national park service in 1915, he invited a group of influential men—writers, tycoons, members of Congress, and even a movie star—to go camping in the Sierras. Tie Sing was hired to cook.
Tie Sing planned diligently. He understood the importance of this trip. But when disaster struck—twice!—and Tie Sing’s supplies were lost, it was his creative spirit and quick mind that saved the day. His skills were tested and Tie Sing rose to the challenge.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, created by Congress on August 25, 1916. Today, you can hike to Sing Peak, named for Tie Sing, in Yosemite National Park.
Themes of racial discrimination, saving nature, and food and cooking are braided seamlessly in this picture-book biography. At the turn of the 20th century, Chinese men—whether immigrants or American-born—had little choice when it came to work. Most ended up as cooks in restaurants or laundrymen. But Tie Sing “had dreams as big as the country he loved” and made correspondingly expensive plans. Fueled by a love for the outdoors and a passion for cooking, he soon earned a reputation as the best trail cook in California. In 1915, Tie Sing was hired by millionaire Stephen Mather, who had invited a special group of men to go camping in the hopes of convincing Congress to protect the country’s natural wonders. For the first few days, Tie Sing kept everyone well-fed with sardine hors d’oeuvres, sizzling steaks, and fresh-baked sourdough rolls. Unfortunately, disaster struck, not once but twice, and Tie Sing lost much of his provisions but tweaked the menu to carry on. Tie Sing’s talent and resourcefulness played a huge part in the success of Mather’s mission, and within a year, Congress created the National Park Service. Pimentel’s lyrically told account is to the point, explaining that “America was a tough place to be Chinese” before zeroing in on Tie Sing’s culinary wizardry. Lo’s illustrations have an appropriately faded look, neatly evoking both the times and the craggy wilderness. A frontier adventure that spotlights one of the many significant roles ethnic Chinese played in American history.
This picture-book biography features a little-known Chinese American who ingenious meal planning was instrumental in the ultimate success of the National Parks Service. During a time when Asians in America had few or no rights, Tie Sing aims high. He takes “a job cooking for mapmakers as they tramped through the mountains, naming peaks,” and his reputation for excellent cooking gets the attention of millionaire Stephen Mather, who hires Tie Sing to cook high-class, restaurant-style meals for 30 men on a backcountry tour of what is now Yosemite National Park, in an effort to secure political support for a federal parks program. Tie Sing’s creature solutions to the problems of cooking on the trail are fascinating, and stories of minor disasters on the Yosemite tour highlight his ingenuity and resourcefulness. Paragraphs of straightforward text are more advanced than typical picture books, but the soft, expressive watercolor illustrations, some of which are based on historical photos, are a pleasing accompaniment. Ideal for the classroom, particularly this year, when the NPS celebrates its centennial.
School Library Journal
Yosemite’s Sing Peak honors Nevada-born backcountry chef Tie Sing. Chosen to be the chef for the Mather Mountain Party in 1915, Sing had to feed 30 men, some of whom were being wooed to back a plan for a national park service. Pimentel sets the stage by introducing readers to the inequality Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans faced at the hands of white Americans. She fictionalizes, but modestly. This title stresses both Sing’s foresight and his resourcefulness–resilience being necessary in this era of legal anti-Chinese discrimination. final pages provide extra historical information with period black-and-white photos. The illustrations are well suited for a read-aloud: lively, expansive (usually spreads), and with a bright magenta vest identifying the hero. Considering the overtly positive nature of the work, adult readers might stress that while Sing overcame the immediate setback of accidents, he could not be expected to defeat the systemic prejudice that deprived him–and other Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants–of countless opportunities, no matter how big his dreams. Only two or three mules are depicted (not possibly enough for the job). Overall, this pencil and watercolor illustrated and eloquently written account of a Chinese American will satisfy every taste. For any library wishing to enhance its diversity and inclusion collection.
Written and illustrated by Rich Lo November 2016
SLJ Reviews – January, 2017
LO, Rich. New Year. illus. by Rich Lo. 40p. Sky Pony. Nov. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781510707238. PreS-Gr 2–An unnamed boy struggles with fitting in after immigrating to the United States. When his teacher assigns the class an art project, he draws his memories of celebrating Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. His work inspires a class project that allows him to share his heritage with his new classmates. It also pulls in another Chinese student, who had initially been embarrassed to translate for him. Illustrated with bright watercolors, this simple and straightforward story emphasizes being proud of one’s culture and sharing it with others. It takes a while for the boy to fit in and begin to learn English, and readers see his progress. A reassuring word from his teacher (who emigrated from Mexico as a child) lets the boy, and readers, know things will continue to improve after the book ends. VERDICT This hopeful tale of acceptance is a solid addition to larger collections.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA
Saturday, January 28th will be the Chinese New Year, celebrated on the day of the first new moon between January 21st and February 20th each year. Rich Lo’s New Year is as aesthetically pleasing as his first picture book, Father’s Chinese Opera (review here). Lo’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful, especially when he draws the boy’s Chinese New Year memories. These include colorful dragon boats, Chinese street celebrations with music, and huge-headed, flowing ornamental dragons. Young readers will love these images, just as the boy’s classmates did. As the boy relates the celebrations, he is out of his shell, smiling and dancing, and proud of his Chinese heritage. What a terrific message for other Chinese kids feeling lost in their new American home.
new-year-spread-2New Year will entertain all children with the excitement of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Any child who was ever experienced being the new kid at school can identify with this aspect of the boy’s story. The teacher’s admission is a nice touch. The boy is never named, making it easy for children to envision themselves in the story. Lo knows how to tell a compelling story for all children, not just Chinese children. The story is about the new kid in school, who finally finds a way to feel a part of his class. The Chinese New Year adds a nice layer of a different culture for young children to learn and enjoy.