Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family

by Lensey Namioka
Reading Level: Grades 3–4

The Story

Yingmei (Yang the Third) and her family recently moved to Seattle, Washington, from China. As she tries to fit in, Yingmei changes her name to Mary, keeps a journal of the American words she wants to learn, eats sandwiches made with peanut butter and jelly instead of bean sprouts, and frets that the rest of her family isn’t working hard enough to become American.

Children will relate to Yingmei as she experiences the pains and challenges of moving to a new place. This novel takes the reader along on Yingmei’s journey through realistic (and often humorous) cross-cultural confusions. By the end of the story, Yingmei discovers that all people are ethnic in some way, and that every family’s culture makes them unique. She also learns the importance of respecting herself and her family’s heritage.

Ideas for Classroom Use

Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family is one of the books used in Committee for Children’s Steps to Respect program. The lessons that accompany this book link language arts with social and emotional learning. The book is rich in material and provides excellent opportunities for students to meet many different learning objectives. The following objectives and activities are from a Steps to Respect literature lesson on Yang the Third.

Language Arts Objectives

Learners will:

Use a variety of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate text.
Share responses to literature with peers.
Relate new information to prior knowledge and experience.
Formulate ideas, opinions, and personal responses to readings.

Social and Emotional Learning Objectives

Learners will:

Define respect and discuss how various cultures demonstrate it.
Generate and practice emotion-management techniques for dealing with rejection.
Describe strategies for finding potential friends, making new friends, and joining a group.

Identify ways to tell that they’re becoming friends with someone.
Use perspective-taking skills to respond to questions about the main character.
Generate ideas for activities that might break down stereotypes.

Perspective-Taking Activity

Students can practice perspective-taking skills by talking about how Yingmei might be feeling when she tries to engage the girls in a game.
Volunteers could also talk about a time when they felt the same way as Yingmei.

Emotion-Management Activity

Debbie rejects Yingmei’s offer to show the girls a Chinese game. Explain to students that–as Yingmei learns–everyone is turned down at some point. Engage the class in brainstorming ways Yingmei could help herself feel better.

Review and Apply Concepts Related to Joining a Group Invite students to offer Yingmei advice about joining the group using their knowledge from the Steps to Respect skill lessons. After students generate advice for Yingmei, they can practice some of the suggestions.

Extension Activities

All of the Steps to Respect literature lessons contain Recommended Extension Activities that can be used to integrate the scenes from the book with other content areas and classroom activities. (The first activity in this section relates directly to the passage from Yang the Third on page four, and the other activities refer to different events from the same chapter.)

Take Two

Language Arts, Social and Emotional Learning

Have students reenact the scene in which Yingmei tries to join the group–but this time change the other girls’ behavior to make it easier for Yingmei to join them.

Write It

Language Arts

Have students rewrite the Thanksgiving dinner scene from another character’s perspective. After completing the assignment students can share their pieces with classmates or create a Thanksgiving bulletin board and display them.

Find Out More

Language Arts, Social Studies

Have students research cultures that celebrate a holiday similar to Thanksgiving. Ask students to discuss what their own perspectives would be if they were visiting another culture’s celebration.

Musical Instruments

Language Arts, Music

Have students research and report about musical instruments and quartets.


Language Arts, Math, Science

Have students grow bean sprouts in class and research different ways to use them in cooking. Keep track of different variables, such as the amount of water each plant receives and the amount of light each plant is exposed to over a certain period of time. Have students record and graph the growth of the bean sprouts. The bean sprouts could be used in a Chinese meal after the unit is completed.

By Laura Smith, M.Ed.