Coolies (Hardcover) by Yin; illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Philomel, 2001. ISBN: 978-0399232275. pp: 40
Ages: 7-13, gr: 2-8.
Paperback (Reprint edition May 26, 2003) Puffin. ISBN: 978-0142500552


A modern-day Chinese grandmother tells the story of her own great-grandfather who came to America with his younger brother in the mid-1800s to find work. They were hired with other thousands of Chinese to help build the railroad across the country. The story tells of their labor, their hardships, their loyalty, the discrimination they faced, and the final achievement of their dream.


  1. The author is Rosanna Yin Lau. Why do you think she uses the single name for her books?

  2. The name of the illustrator is pronounced soon-peet. Do you think he is Chinese? Check his biography to see.

  3. Yin has written a sequel to Coolies. What do you think might happen to Shek and Wong as their lives continue in San Francisco? Read the sequel Brothers if it is available.

  4. (older readers) A reviewer for Publishers Weekly feels that the illustrations are too dramatic for the author’s tone. Another reviewer feels the paintings add to the emotion of the story. What do you think about the match between the author’s words and the artist’s paintings?

  5. Read book reviews written by intermediate grade students. Write your own book review.
    Rhode Island students
    Scholastic readers

  6. Explore an online photo album of Yin and Chris Soentpiet. What would you say to Chris if you met him at a book signing or at a visit to your school?

  7. What is the difference between fact and stereotype? Find possible sterotypes in the book.

  8. Read a student poem based on the book. Write your own poem.
  9. Try the puzzles Chris has created for you.

  10. Research and describe the Ching Ming Festival.

  11. "Wong saw the tip of Shek’s boot protruding above the alp of snow" What does alp mean? What is a synonym for alp?

  12. How long was it between the signing of the bill to build the transcontinental railroad and the pounding of the last spike to connect the two parts?

  13. Sing "I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad".
    Teacher Note: You can take a chance and download James Coffey’s "Layin’ Down Those Railroad Ties" or "Aboard a Train" for $1 each from Songs for Teaching.

  14. Make a chart comparing travel from Hong Kong to San Francisco by time of trip and cost of trip. Create math word problems based on these numbers.
  15. (older readers) Follow the chronology of the building of the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento to Utah. On an outline map of the United States, draw in the railroad. Mark five places where something happened that you believe is significant and write a brief description of what happened at each of these points.

About the Author


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More for the teacher

Links to other online guides for Coolies.


Coolies. Accelerated Reader: Quiz #43511 EN; Book Level 4.8; Points= 0.5
Reading Counts: Reading Level 3.8; Points= 2.0
Lexile Level 660
Guided Reading Level N
word count= 2007
Flesch/Kincaid 3.5

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