Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok
Photo of Jean Kwok by Mark Kohn


 "You know, professor, this semester really made me think. Like now, I’ll be riding the subway, and a person will get on and push me or something, and I’ll start to get mad, and then I look at them and I think, 'You know, that could be Kim or Ma from Girl in Translation... and I stop being mad and racist–you know? Reading really changed how I see people.'”
A Student at the New Community College at CUNY




Primary Source has put together a teacher toolkit indicating the many different ways Girl in Translation could be used in schools, including discussion questions, book and film recommendations, classroom and writing activities. Primary Source writes:

Welcome to Primary Source's teacher toolkit for the novel Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. We hope the materials here entice you to read Kwok's book—a powerful work of semi-autobiographical fiction—and consider using it in the classroom. Our toolkit includes four components: a multimedia resource guide that recommends fiction, non-fiction, memoir, films, primary sources, maps, research studies, and websites on the novel's content and related curriculum topics; a set of discussion questions, suitable for high school classes or teacher discussion groups and book clubs; classroom activities that build off of themes or situations in the novel; and writing prompts that allow students to explore their own responses to Kwok's novel.

Girl in Translation speaks to many topics that are of pressing concern to students and teachers today. These include immigrant rights, workplace exploitation, and urban poverty; race, culture, and identity formation; and the challenges faced by immigrant youth in school and family and peer relations. The novel can be used to anchor curriculum units in literature and social studies that pertain to immigration history, Asian American experiences, U. S. History post-1945, economic justice, and urban studies.

To go to the Primary Source Teacher Toolkit, click here (use the orange tabs at the top of their page to navigate through the toolkit).

For other discussion questions, click here.



The Maryville Reads book has always been used by the freshmen for the first year experience, but Girl in Translation is the closest we’ve come to a common read for the entire community. The book is rich with a variety of themes that have worked for classes in Occupational Therapy, Graduate education, Business and Nursing. The themes in the book have also closely matched the themes in the First-Year Experience seminar, such as immigration. Beyond that, Girl in Translation has had a wide appeal, from the freshmen who are male to our major Maryville donors. The book has inspired the donor society to start a book club with Girl in Translation as the first read.

We were lucky to have Jean Kwok appear at two events: one a community event in the evening and the other for students the next day during their Freshmen Seminar class time. We had a nice turnout in the evening and a packed house in the morning.

Both audiences loved her candor. She is open about the hardships and the successes in her own life drawing parallels between her experiences and those of Kimberly Chang. Jean Kwok has been a university professor so she knows how to relate to the students. While telling her story, she is teaching them as well. She does it all with humor and goodwill.

On our campus the students had an immediate rapport with Jean Kwok. Some have kept in touch with her and have friended her on Facebook. Her visit was quite an experience for our students, making Girl in Translation come alive! Jean Kwok was a great fit for Maryville.

Eugenia V. McKee, Ph. D.

Dean of the Maryville University Library
Chair, Maryville Reads

I recently assigned Girl in Translation to my students for summer reading, and the response has been overwhelming....they finally have a book they can relate to and an amazing success story to hold onto. There is so much I could write in this letter that would let you know how much they would love to meet Jean Kwok, their new hero, but the best thing I can say is that this book has changed many lives at my school. The Chinese students feel it is possible to do anything, and the American students have gained such an amazing understanding of their fellow students, one that they never had before.

Kristen Kavanaugh
English Department
School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, NYC

Thank you again for being the best FYE author Wright State has ever worked with.  All our previous authors were quite wonderful, but your enthusiasm and interest in first year student success came shining through in each of the three events you participated in at WSU.  

There was a long line to get books signed, but students went away delighted.  Jean was gracious about posing for photos with all who wanted a photo (most of them).  I heard some students speaking Chinese with her, and one young man had a good long conversation with her in Dutch.  Students who forgot their book had her sign bookmarks or their arm.  "Body parts!" she exclaimed enthusiastically, every time. Jean’s humor and expertise made her visit with an English class a home-run event. Hearing her story about children working in sweatshops was an eye-opening experience for our students.

Catherine Queener
Director First Year Experience Programs
Wright State University

I am getting nothing but praise for the Skype event with you.  I have heard so many positive reports, from students, staff, and faculty, and the Books to Bridge the Region members. And at Books to Bridge the Region this morning, I also heard so much praise for the way you came across so personable, so warm over Skype, and for the whole event that afternoon here in general.  The question and answer period was meaningful to the audience, and those who wanted to talk to you up close “face-to-face” via the web-cam felt it even more strongly.   Our students were touched  - those that not only read the book, came to the discussions, but attended the Skype event as well.   

It is gratifying at our educational institution that we are making a difference in their lives. Your book and YOU and your life experiences were direct tie-ins that they could relate to.  Your message about the value of education was powerful, as a way out of such situations as you had been in.  So again, THANK YOU!  The opportunity to connect with you from halfway across the globe was something unique that we will long remember. I can look back and say this - it was a SUCCESS.

Barbara Weaver
Regional Library Director
Ivy Tech Community College, Northwest

Thank you for your time, graciousness, and generosity. Your talks were funny, inspiring, and hit many important notes that resonated with our students and campus. It was such a pleasure to meet you! This will definitely be one of those events that we will be talking about for long time and remembering very fondly. I hope that it will be possible to bring you back in the future! 

Hellen S. Lee, PhD
Professor and Vice Chair, Department of English
California State University, Sacramento

As a seminar instructor, I found Girl in Translation to be an excellent piece to use in conjunction with my seminar which focuses on the various elements and dimensions of emotional intelligence. My students were able to identify many examples of EQ traits in action as they read Girl in Translation. It offered an excellent example of the five dimensions of emotional intelligence. As the struggles and triumphs of the main characters were revealed, we were able to easily connect ourselves to skills used in developing self awareness, self management, motivation, empathy and interpersonal relationships. All of which were the main dimensions of EQ. Further, the book offered us the opportunity to discuss both the ways and means by which emotional intelligence can contribute to ones success in life. The issues portrayed in this year's choice for Maryville Reads gave my students new insight about topics which ranged from immigration, acculturation, adversity and discrimination, to managing ones self in the midst of difficult circumstances and decision making.

My students especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear and meet the author, Jean Kwok. Her presentation helped bring the novel to life on a whole new level. For many of them, this was the first time they had read a book and then got to meet the author. They were very appreciative and proud to been a part of such a wonderful culminating event.

Lillian Curtis, Ed.D.
University Seminar Instructor
First Year Experience Program
Maryville University

I had a wonderful time reading Girl in Translation.  I was especially
moved by Kimberly’s attempts to hide her poverty and the shame she feels
as her friends discover her secret.  Reading your story made me think
quite specifically about my students and the aspects of their
backgrounds that only become clear to someone looking for them.  I think
I will be a smarter and more sensitive teacher for having read your book
(and heard your talk.)  So thank you for that.
John Loonam, Ph. D.
English Department
Hunter College High School

I've used Girl in Translation in a Multicultural and Ethnic Studies course and could not be more delighted with the results.  Jean Kwok "gets" contemporary immigrant experiences and communicates the complexity of growing up in an immigrant family like no author I've read in recent years.  Students have responded so well to this book, too.  Their group presentations and final essays suggest that readers of this book come away more insightful and with a feeling of empowerment.  A+! 

Dr. David Lucander
Instructor of Pluralism and Diversity in America
Rockland Community College 


I accompanied Jean to her TV interview, her visit with the students and Parents' Association, and her evening event, which was open to the public.  She was terrific at all three.  She is a wonderful storyteller, and her Powerpoint presentation was personal, funny, and inspiring.  The eighth graders found Jean's message incredibly inspiring.  We had invited the eighth grade from Grace Academy, a charter school in Hartford for underprivileged girls, to attend and they loved meeting Jean and learning from her that through hard work and determination they could make their dreams come true. Jean is truly terrific in front of a student as well as an adult audience.

Jenny Quigley
Event Coordinator
Renbrook School Author Series

It was such a pleasure and honor to have you on our campus yesterday. Our students, staff and faculty thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and listening to your stories and insights on multiculturalism. I certainly hope that we will invite you to our campus again so that you will be able to meet even more fans of yours. 

Ching-Hua Wang
Provost & Vice President, Academic Affairs
Sacramento State University

Jean was a huge hit. The students were inspired by her story, found her very funny and oh so charming. The highlight for me may have been when two boys (both big baseball players) asked me if there were any extra copies of Jean's book in the US office. There were only two left on my desk and I told them that they could have them. Sure enough, they picked them up and then joined us for lunch, copies in hand, ready for Jean's autograph!

Jean is a great speaker and she is wise. She imparted some advice to the students that I wished I could have recorded. She talked about how rejection is just fine; you take it in, dismiss it and then get back to work.

And just so you know, the lunch was packed. How wonderful it is that we have this program and that BC students get the chance to meet people like Jean.

Suzanne Fogarty
Director of the Upper School
Berkeley Carroll School

As a former teacher at a school with a large population of Asian American students, this book had a special impact for me. Jean tells Kim's story with honesty, respect and humor. Her book reading and presentation was captivating.

Marge Goldsmith
Chair of the Science Department (retired)
Alumnae/i Association’s Board of Directors
Hunter College High School

Kenisha, one of my juniors, said, "Mrs. London, this has been the best part of my day - no, my month!" I can't say thank you enough. We had our group of teachers, the principal, and most importantly, students gathered around a smartboard so you appeared larger than life on the big screen. What a terrific experience. Kenisha and I had already decided that our two favorite books in the past couple of years have been The Help and now, your book. It was such an honor for us to get the opportunity to hear you speak. We already knew that you were brilliant and a talented author, but after the webinar, we decided that you were also a very nice person. When the person asked a question that had already been asked, you were so kind and didn't belittle the student, or make them feel bad, but you also didn't bore everyone else by simply repeating yourself. (Not that anything you would EVER say could ever be boring.)

Tricia Mullen London
Library Director
Avon Middle High School

Jean had the ability, while addressing a crowded auditorium, to speak as if she were chatting with friends in a coffee shop. Personable, warm, funny, and brilliant, she struck exactly the right balance with her humor and her truth. After Jean finished her address, a student seated behind me said, "Wow. She really held my attention. And it's hard to hold my attention!" Later, speaking to my smaller class, Jean was just as powerful. Her honesty was refreshing. She's able to be completely forthright about the rigors and realities of the writing life without being discouraging.  She had the students sometimes doubled over laughing and sometimes leaning forward enthralled. They all walked out feeling inspired.

Katrina Kittle
Instuctor for The Socially Conscious Novel
Wright State University



For general inquiries about classroom use:
Academic Marketing Department
Penguin Books
375 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014

For speaking engagements:

Tiffany Tomlin

Penguin Speakers Bureau

375 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014