Cover image for Coolies
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Philomel Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
40 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 26 x 31 cm
A young boy hears the story of his great-great-great-grandfather and his brother who came to the United States to make a better life for themselves helping to build the transcontinental railroad.
Reading Level:
AD 660 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.8 0.5 43511.

Reading Counts RC K-2 3.8 2 Quiz: 28347 Guided reading level: N.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC. BK. Juvenile Fiction Childrens Area-Picture Books

On Order



When Shek and little Wong journey to America in 1865, they have work! Along with hundreds of other Chinese, the brothers are going to help build a great railroad across the West. But as days grow into months, Shek and Wong endure more than they could have imagined--bleeding hands, blasting dynamite, and treacherous avalanches. For very little pay. Are they being treated this way because of their almond-shaped eyes--because they are coolies?

Inspired by actual events in the history of the American railroad, Cooliesa reveals the harsh truth about life for thousands of Chinese laborers, while it celebrates the love and loyalty between two brothers who were determined not only to survive, but to succeed.

Author Notes

Yin lives in Queens, New York.
At the age of eight, I was adopted with my older sister from Korea to live with an American family in Hawaii. When I was 22 years old, I had the opportunity to visit my Korean brother and sisters for the first time since I was adopted . It was a happy reunion. (A book about my adoption will be released in due course.) More about my background can be found in several newspaper publications such as the Daily News and the New York Newsday .

I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I studied Advertising, Illustrations, Graphic Design and Art Education. But painting has always been my passion.

With encouragement and guidance from my good friend, author and illustrator, Ted Lewin, I took my portfolio along with some original paintings around New York City. The first ten publishers I visited did not have work for me until I stepped into the office of Lothrop, Lee & Shephard (acquired by: Harper-Collins Publishers). They have given me my first opportunity to illustrate and author my first children's picture book, Around Town .

My books reflect my interest in people, history and its culture. As with all my historical books, researching at the library plays an important role in illustrating the accuracy of the details I paint into each spread. After researching is complete, I hire models to play the parts of the main characters. Using models allows me to achieve a realistic and consistent look from page to page. Based on my research, I have to make the costumes if necessary. I also act as the model's hairdresser and makeup artist. Once I have taken the photographs, I'll use it as a tool to help me during the painting process. This order resembles much of my idol, whom I like to think of myself as an incarnation of the infamous Norman Rockwell.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 5^-9. The term coolies is a racist insult for Asians in many parts of the world and was used by nineteenth-century Americans to demean the early Chinese immigrants. Yin says she is transforming the term by showing the courage and integrity of those Chinese American workers. She tells the history through the personal experience of Shek and his younger brother, who encounter harsh racism when they come to the U.S. desperate for work and get low-paying jobs building the transcontinental railroad. Soentpiet's strong, realistic watercolor paintings, in shades of blue and gold, show the bond between the brothers, as they leave family in China and later as they hammer in the rails across mountain, prairie, and desert in the West. Four years later when the railroad is complete, the Chinese workers are the only group not invited to the celebration. Shek and his brother are more saintly heroes than real people, but the American history is powerful. Yin provides notes and a bibliography for readers who want to know more. --Hazel RochmanReference Books Bulletin

Publisher's Weekly Review

"In an impressive debut, Yin illumines a dark corner of American history-the monumental labor of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad," wrote PW. Ages 5-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-5-Leaving China to support their family, Shek and his younger brother travel to America, where they work building the transcontinental railroad. Known as coolies, they endure backbreaking labor, discrimination, and danger but never lose faith in one another or the promise of a better life. Arresting illustrations capture the scope and drama of the siblings' adventures. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.