Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Authors and Literary Works
An Na
Edwidge Danticat
Pam Munoz Ryan
Walter Dean Myers
Laurence Yep
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Authors and Literary Works
A Step From Heaven

At age four, Young Ju Park believes that "Mi Gook" -- Korean for "America" -- is a magic word. In her house in a small fishing village in Korea, it seems to make her parents stop fighting and "smile big." When the family finally moves to Southern California, Young Ju decides on the plane trip over that Mi Gook must be heaven. When she arrives, however, her American uncle gently tells her that America is not heaven, but "a step from heaven." Young Ju and her family soon find out that this "step" is a very steep and difficult one indeed.

"Young Ju is the emotional center of the book," notes The New York Times, "and a wonderful character she is: feisty, observant, empathetic, and resourceful." An Na's first novel tells the story of Young Ju's struggles, from the age of four to 18, to find a place for herself in this new culture. When she chose to relate the girl's story in short, episodic chapters, Na was influenced by Sandra Cisneros's novel, The House on Mango Street. She says the style is her attempt to capture the way memory really works; readers should feel they are reliving the event with Young Ju.

Young Ju does not speak English, but struggles nonetheless to become the "Mi Gook" girl her mother wants her to be. Meanwhile, her baby brother is born, and her father begins to favor this son over his daughter. As the family struggles with money, her father, an alcoholic, becomes more and more mired in the disease, and abuses his family, physically and mentally. In a climactic scene in which her father beats her mother, Young Ju suddenly thinks, "I am not a child anymore," and realizes she must call the police. In this journey from child to adult, Young Ju begins to find a voice -- one that is neither completely Korean nor completely American -- that allows her to finally speak the truth.

An Na writes that "A Step From Heaven grew from a need to express some of the longings and frustrations that I felt as an immigrant growing up in America. Many people ask me if this novel is autobiographical and I always respond by saying yes and no. As with all writing, the novel draws on past emotions, but the story is not my life. What the protagonist and I do share are some of the feelings of yearning, joy, and shame that come with trying to negotiate a foreign culture."

While the path of this fictional Korean American girl was rocky, the author's course has been smooth. A Step From Heaven garnered a raft of admiring reviews. Publishers Weekly called it "a mesmerizing first novel ... the narrative unfolds through jewel-like moments, carefully strung together." "A beautifully written, affecting work," says School Library Journal. ALA Booklist gave the novel a starred review, saying, "As in the best writing, the particulars make the story universal."

A Step From Heaven has won at least 25 awards and notable book designations. The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and received the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and the International Reading Society's Children's Book Award. Some of the "best book" lists on which it is included are the New York Times Book Review Notable Books, William Allen White Children's Book Award master list, Asian American Booklist, Best Children's Books from Publishers Weekly, Best Book for Young Adults from ALA, and Children's Literature's Choice List.

back to top Next: Edwidge Danticat: Biography
Workshop Home Support Materials About this Workshop Sitemap
Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades Workshop Home

© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy