LITERARY LOCATION: Mau Dan Gardens Co-op, 350 East Pender, near the southern side of the intersection of Pender and Dunlevy Streets, Vancouver

From 1959 to 1968, Paul Yee lived as a child at 350' East Pender Street, close to old Chinatown, where he attended Chinese school. The house was torn down during 'urban renewal' but, in 1981, Paul Yee's Aunt Lillian, his primary tie to Chinatown's past and its families, returned to her old address at Mau Dan Gardens Co-op at 350 East Pender. Born in Chinatown in 1895, Lillian was delighted to come full circle and spend her final years in her old neighborhood.

"When I was a child," he recalls, "growing up in the 1960s there were no books about my world--the world of immigrants, of racial minorities, and different histories. I had to learn about these things much later in life... Such books can reassure those in North America that it is valid to be different from the mainstream."

ENTRY

Paul Yee has provided Chinese Canadian ghost stories, tales of romance, comic farces and sagas of quiet heroism against the backdrops of canneries, gold fields, farms and the building of the railroads. Most of his books for young readers are based imaginatively on the lives of the Chinese who came to North America in the late 1800s or early 1900s, as is his first novel for adults, A Superior Man.

Set in Vancouver's Chinatown in 1909, The Curses of Third Uncle, for example, concerns a young girl's search for her missing father, a tailor, into the bush north of Revelstoke. In Ghost Train, Choon-yi comes to Canada to join her father only to discover he has died after helping to build the railroad; she becomes determined to paint the giant trains that he died for. Set in Vancouver in 1907, The Bone Collector's Son is about 14-year-old Bingwing Chan who resents his father because he gambles and because he forces his son to help him dig up the bones of deceased Chinese so they can be sent home to China for permanent burial. Set in the 1920s, A Song for Ba is another father-son story about a North American Chinese opera company that falls on hard times.

A transcontinental railway was one of the terms required by British Columbia in order to agree to assimilation into the political construct of Canada. At least 10,000 labourers were needed to complete the job of completing the coast-to-coast railway line, enabling British Columbia to join confederation. In 1881, the B.C. population included 19,500 whites, approximately 25,000 First Nations people and approximately 4,500 Chinese. Under the auspices of Andrew Onderdonk, the American engineer who was hired to complete the B.C. section of the railway, some seven thousand Chinese labourers, primarily from Guandong province, arrived to serve as three-quarters of the required labour force. Paul Yee's diary-styled I Am Canada: Blood and Iron (2010) is the journal of a Heen, who, as a young Cantonese teenager in China, sets out with his father on a journey to British Columbia in 1882 to help build the new railroad that will connect the West Coast to the rest of the country. The wages he hopes to earn will erase the stigma of gambling debts incurred by his father and grandfather. Yee dedicates the text to Wong Hau-hon, from Sun-wui county, Guangdong province, a member of the 'Gang 161' on the Canadian Pacific railway in 1882. There is minimal indication that Lee Heen-gwong is a fictionalized character created by the author.

A Toronto archivist, multicultural coordinator and immigration analyst, Paul Richard Yee was born in Spalding, Saskatchewan on October 1, 1956. He moved to Vancouver in 1958 and grew up in Vancouver where he became a director of the Chinese Cultural Centre. He was also active in a Chinese Canadian radio program called Pender Guy. The Yee family had come to Canada near the beginning of the 20th century.

Paul Yee has an M.A. in history from UBC. His social history, Saltwater City, an illustrated history, earned the City of Vancouver Book Award. It blends historical facts and photographs to recreate the daily lives and emotional hardships of early Chinese immigrants to the Pacific Coast. It was revised and redesigned in 2006 to incorporate the years 1987 to 2001. A cross-Canada follow-up, Chinatown, is an illustrated survey of Chinese communities in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

In 2012, Paul Yee received the Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature ($20,000) via the Writers Trust, sponsored by the Metcalf Foundation (Jury: Deirdre Baker, Ronald Jobe, and Joanne Schwartz). The ceremonial citation stated: 'Paul Yee has contributed uniquely and powerfully to our literary landscape over a writing career that spans almost 30 years. He was virtually the first children's author to document the Chinese Canadian experience from its early days to the present. Ghost Train, Tales from Gold Mountain and Dead Man's Gold now stand as classics. Layered and haunting, they strike at the heart of human character, while at the same time portraying a very particular historical setting in vivid, economical prose. Even in his quick, contemporary short stories he writes from a strong position of familiarity and knowledge, bringing up many facets and varieties in the Canadian experience of immigration. And yet, in almost all his stories, whether historical or contemporary, there is a moment of revelation or character change that pivots on human passions that we all share. His recent teen novels have a biting voice that speaks to issues of identity, racism and sexual discrimination, both inside and outside the Canadian Chinese community. His is a body of work to wrestle with, one that leaves the reader altered and that deserves our recognition.'

Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook (Tradewind 2015), with texts by Paul Yee and recipes by Judy Chan, won the 2015 Gourmand Award for best Canadian cookbook as well as two other Gourmand Awards. It was illustrated by Shaoli Wang, with and introduction by Jane Yolen. [See news item below]

REVIEW (2017) by Beverly Cramp:
Shu-Li and the Magic Pear Tree by Paul Yee & Shaoli Wang
(Tradewind Books $10.95)

Schoolgirl Shu-li's best friend Tamara may have to move and leave her Commercial Drive school in Vancouver because her mother's landlord put up the rent.

Another friend, Diego, has a puppy with a stomach ailment. The dog keeps getting sick even though it is taking medication prescribed by a veterinarian.
Neither of the girls can text their friends because they don't have cell phones. When a fellow student named Joey tells them to text him, they have to admit they can't.

"Then get one,"; Joey retorts. "Everyone has one.";
But Shu-Li and Tamara's parents believe that people need time off computers and gadgets.

It's all part of the world of pre-teens created by Governor General Award-winning author Paul Yee in his new young adult fiction story, Shu-Li and the Magic Pear Tree.

This is a prequel to his multi-cultural Shu-Li series illustrated by Shaoli Wang which includes Shu-Li and Diego (2009) and Shu-Li and Tamara (2007).
*
the pear tree of the title is in the back yard of an elderly widow, Mrs. Rossi, to whom Shu-Li and Tamara read books as part of a volunteer program sponsored by their school. Mrs. Rossi tells Shu-Li and Tamara stories about magic pears that grow on her pear tree.

One day, Diego goes with Shu-Li and Tamara to visit Mrs. Rossi. He brings his sick dog Paco who throws up, "a frothy mix of white and brown.";

One of the pears falls on Diego's head. He bites into it. "So sweet!"; he says, as juice dribbles down his chin. By the time the children leave Mrs. Rossi's house that day, Paco the dog is mysteriously better, much to everyone's astonishment.

Shu-Li begins to carry a few of the magic pears in her backpack. Tamara eats one of the pears. Within a day, her mother doesn't have to leave the neighborhood. Turns out that Mrs. Rossi asks Tamara and her mother to move in with her. The rent is lower and they can help take care of the widow.

Shu-Li believes the magic pears work in threes. Now she only has one magic pear left. She wants to use it to wish for a cell phone but thinks that is selfish. She gives it instead to Nika, a First Nations student, to help her with a hoop dance she is to perform at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
When Shu-Li and Tamara find out their school is on the list of those to be closed in Vancouver, they rush to find Nika to get that last pear back. Will they be in time to save their school? And is it really the magic pears at work?

Paul Yee is a master storyteller, mixing current events that impact the lives of children with the wonder of magic realism. Or is it the healing power of hope and of communities working together that he is really writing about?
Tamara and Shu-Li reach Nika, however she has already been successful with her hula dance, making them believe the last wish was used up.
"Shu-Li and Tamara sagged,"; writes Yee. "Too late. The last wish was gone. But Nika wasn't finished. 'I didn't eat the pear. I practiced all weekend. This morning I told myself that if I believed in myself, then I'd get in. And that's just what happened.'";

In the end, the whole class fights to save the school, putting on a demonstration and getting signatures on a petition. They address the school board and get the decision reversed. Perhaps the pears were magic. Yet Yee doesn't reveal the answer, he ends his story with an enigmatic question: "Was it the magic pear or was it the extra work?"; 9781926890159

Beverly Cramp is associate editor at BC BookLook.

FACTS FROM PAUL YEE'S WEBSITE (2015):

-- born in Spalding Saskatchewan, Canada
-- grew up in Chinatown in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada
-- attended Lord Strathcona Elementary School, Britannia Secondary School
-- attended Cantonese language school as a child but studied Mandarin at university.
-- has limited reading, writing and speaking ability in Cantonese
-- graduated from University of British Columbia with Bachelor's (1978) and Master's Degrees in Canadian History (1983)
-- worked as archivist at City of Vancouver Archives (1979-1987) and at Archives of Ontario (1988-1991)
-- worked at Ontario Ministry of Citizenship (1991-1997)
-- volunteered at Vancouver Chinese Cultural Center (1974-1987)
-- past hobbies: swimming, jogging, taiko (Japanese drumming)
-- member of Writers Union of Canada (TWUC), Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers ( CANSCAIP)
-- has lived in Toronto, Ontario since 1988
-- dog's name is Baxter, a Wheaten Terrier

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter!

BOOKS

Teach Me To Fly, Skyfighter and Other Stories (Lorimer, 1983)
The Curses of Third Uncle (Lorimer, 1986)
Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver (Douglas & McIntyre, 1988, 2006)
Tales from Gold Mountain: Stories of the Chinese in the New World (D&M, 1988) illustrated by Simon Ng
Roses Sing on New Snow: A Delicious Tale (Groundwood, 1991) illustrated by Harvey Chan
Breakaway (Groundwood, 1994)
Moonlight's Luck (Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, 1995) illustrated by Terry Yee
Struggle and Hope: The Story of Chinese Canadians (Umbrella Press, 1996)
Ghost Train (Groundwood, 1996/2003) illustrated by Harvey Chan
The Boy in the Attic (Groundwood, 1998)
Dead Man's Gold and Other Stories by Paul Yee and Harvey Chan (Groundwood, 2002)
The Bone Collector's Son (Tradewind, 2003)
A Song for Ba (Groundwood, 2004)
Chinatown (James Lorimer, 2005)
What Happened This Summer (Tradewind, 2006)
Bamboo by Paul Yee and Shaoli Wang (Simply Read, 2006)
The Jade Necklace by Paul Yee and Grace Lin (Tradewind, 2006)
Shu-Li and Tamara by Paul Yee (Tradewind, 2007), illustrated by Shaoli Wang 978-1-896580-93-7
Learning to Fly (Orca 2008)
Shu-Li and Diego (Tradewind 2009 $8.95), illustrated by Shaoli Wang
I Am Canada: Blood and Iron -- Building the Railway, Lee Heen-gwong, British Columbia, 1882 (Scholastic 2010)
The Secret Keepers (Tradewind 2011) $12.95 978-1-896580-96-8
Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook (Tradewind 2014) $24.95 978-1-896580-68-5
A Superior Man (Arsenal Pulp 2015) $21.95 978-1-55152-590-7
Shu-Li and the Magic Pear Tree (Tradewind 2017)

AWARDS:

City of Vancouver Book Award, 1989 - Saltwater City
Sheila A. Egoff Prize, 1990 - Tales from Gold Mountain
National I.O.D.E. Award, 1990 - Tales from Gold Mountain
Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award, 1992 - Ghost Train
Governor General's Award, 1997 - Ghost Train
Prix Enfantasie (Switzerland) 1998 - Le Train fantome
Sheila A. Egoff Prize, 1999, The Boy in the Attic
Winner of the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults for Breakaway

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2017]