Woo Ka-Leong (Leon) is nearly 12 years old when he comes to America with his big brother. They were sent by the Emperor of China--to live with an American family, learn English, and stay away from home for at least ten years. In those days, the 1870s, all Chinese boys had to wear their hair in a single braid down their back. Can you imagine? A lot of kids make fun of Leon, but he has no choice. To cut off his braid would be treason.
Still, Leon learns to love baseball—and trains—and all things American. But his brother hates it. He just wants to go home. As he gradually adapts to life in small-town Connecticut, Leon has to decide whether to be loyal to his brother—or to stay in America.
The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball is a lively, nuanced novel for children ages 10-14 based on the real-life experiences of 120 boys sent to American by the Emperor of China in the 1870s, expected to live with American families, get into college, learn technology, and return home to modernize China. These real 120 Chinese boys formed the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, organized by education pioneer Yung Wing. This book brings their story to life for children of today.
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Here's what early readers (adults) have to say:
A smart, authentic, and engaging look at the Chinese experience in America through the eyes of an adventurous and loyal boy who journeys into the sometimes welcoming, often hostile environment that was nineteenth-century America. You’ll be drawn in by the absorbing history (which is little-known but true) but stay for the characters—and the story that brings them to life. —David Patneaude, author of Thin Wood Walls
Through the eyes of the ever curious "Leon" (Woo Ka-Leong), America is a play of both dazzling light and layered shadows. The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball turns our assumptions of America, and the Chinese impact on our history, upside down. A riveting and revealing story for the ages. —Conrad Wesselhoeft, author of Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly
As I read this story, I was continually amazed about what those boys went through not only in traveling to the States but in adjusting to life, education, and customs here. —Kirby Larson, author of Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky
The much-published Dori Jones Yang, in writing this novel, has drawn on historical accounts of the 1870’s Chinese Educational Mission, as well as her own extended residence in China as a foreign correspondent. She knows whereof she writes. —Edward Rhoads, author of Stepping Forth into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81
Set against the backdrop of the true story of 120 Chinese students sent to New England by their government to study, Dori follows the lives of Woo Ka-Leong (Leon) and his brother Woo Ka-Sun (Carson), their time with the Swann family of Suffield, Connecticut, and their conquest of baseball in a thoroughly satisfying book that will teach young readers about the Chinese, and to see their own culture through foreign eyes. —Scott D. Seligman, author of Tong Wars and The First Chinese American
I highly recommend this book for middle school and up. Leon is 12 and part of the Chinese Educational Mission. This program created by the Chinese government was designed to educate Chinese boys in the American system and learn about technology, and return to China to help modernize it. In China Leon's brother was always the over achiever but when they both stay with a host family in America the tables get turned, and Leon is the one who excels. The family they stay with, the Swanns, had lost a ten-year-old boy the previous year who loved baseball so when Leon starts to play the game it helps Mr. Swann's grieving process and is an extremely moving part of the story. The author has masterfully woven themes of loyalty, transformation, and redemption into a real part of Chinese and American history. —Kathleen Dunbar, Eastlake High School Librarian, Sammamish, WA
The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball by Dori Jones Yang is perfect for middle school readers. The sympathetically drawn characters, Leon and elder brother Carson, are appealing, and their experiences will lend compassion and understanding to those of current immigrants. The novel, based on a true story, opens with a breathtaking train robbery that may have contributed to the fate of one of the brothers. Yang's book dovetails perfectly into the California curriculum for 6th and 7th grade with its portrait of the real life application of Confucianism. Teachers will assign this book because of the excellent research Yang did; students will finish it because they care deeply about these boys and whether they'll stay in America -- and to find out just who will win the baseball championship. --Catherine Marshall-Smith, Middle School Teacher, Santa Clara, CA, Author of American Family
My great grandfather, Wen Bingzhong, was one of the “First 100” and I often wondered about his experiences in America. This was a fascinating period in modern Chinese history and Dori Jones Yang has written a story which describes how this group of young Chinese males might have felt. A great tale! --Martin Tang, retired chairman, Asia, Spencer Stuart & Associates
Although the book takes place in 1876, the conflicts and issues raised are completely modern and relevant today as communities wrestle with the integration of traditional values and changes in technology, job requirements and evolving social mores. As Dori Jones Yang brings these characters to life, they spark lots of thought-provoking questions – fantastic for school or home. --Nancy Kennan, mother of a middle schooler, avid reader of historical fiction, and investment banker in New York City
It is 1875. Imagine you are an 11-year-old Chinese boy who has been sent to the United States by your government to gain an American education. You encounter strange customs, confusing values, and many new ways to get into trouble. In this powerful novel, Dori Jones Yang explores cultural differences and ways of responding to them. Her deep insights and the compelling plot make this a book students will enjoy and then recall as they face cross-cultural experiences of their own. —Mary Hammond Bernson, Director, East Asia Resource Center, University of Washington