________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 21. . . .February 4, 2011.


China Clipper: Pro Football’s First Chinese-Canadian player, Normie Kwong.

Richard Brignall.
Toronto, ON: Lorimer, 2010.
151 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-55277-527-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-528-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55277-526-4 (ebook).

Subject Headings:
Kwong, Norman, 1929- -Juvenile literature.
Chinese Canadian football players-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.





The Eskimos opened the scoring late to the first quarter. Normie ran hard with the ball. He ran around the Argos’ offensive line and scored the game’s first touchdown.

The Argos answered quickly in the second quarter. Toronto’s Nobby Wirkowski had his own scoring rush for a touchdown. They then kicked the convert to give them a 6-5 lead. Soon afterwards they scored another touchdown and kicked a field goal.

Late in the third quarter, the Eskimos trimmed Toronto’s lead. Edmonton’s quarterback controlled the play as his team marched down the field. Play after play, the Eskimos gained yards to put them over to the Toronto end zone. From the Argos ten-yard line Normie took the ball. Teammates Rollie Prather and Mario de Marco blocked the opposition from getting at Norm. He scored his second touchdown of the game.

The first person of Chinese descent to serve as Alberta’s 16th Lieutenant Governor, Normie Kwong was also the first Chinese-Canadian professional football player in the Canadian Football League and the youngest player to win a Grey Cup. Richard Brignall’s China Clipper profiles Normie Kwong during his years as a football player, through which Brignall situates Kwong’s development and growing success in football within the context of his personal life, the societal circumstances in which he grew up, and the Chinese Canadian community’s history. In doing so, Brignall highlights the significance of Kwong’s success in relation to the Chinese Canadian community and mainstream society. Amidst the hostile climate against Chinese Canadians, Normie Kwong’s spectacular success is only even more inspirational and admirable.

     As noted on the publisher’s official website http://www.formac.ca/formac-lorimer/

      RecordBooks| is a series of biographies about sports figures that are designed to appeal to contemporary readers. These books depict “how one athlete or group of athletes overcame issues to succeed at sport. These issues can include, gender, race, or political or economic barriers. Profiled athletes/teams are to be Canadian or Canadian-born, or have had a significant influence on Canadian sports history.

     With its easy-to-read style and evocative narration of football, China Clipper will attract both readers who may be interested in the sport as well as those who may not necessarily be familiar with it. Within this narrative framework, Brignall makes the life of Normie Kwong accessible for his readers.

     The book, which moves chronologically through Normie Kwong’s life as a football player, also touches on his personal life. After the prologue highlights the significance of the 1948 Grey Cup season and Normie Kwong’s role in it, the first chapter situates Normie Kwong’s life within the context of the Chinese Canadian community’s history. As noted by Brignall, “On July 1, 1923 all Chinese Canadians were no longer legal Canadians. Normie Kwong was born into this Canada on October 24, 1929.” During this era, Chinese Canadians did not have the right to vote, own property, or hold certain jobs. Despite these legal and institutional barriers, Kwong achieved success in football through his hard work and because of people who saw his talent and were willing to give him a chance during a time when Asian Canadians did not necessarily have the opportunities and support to pursue what they desired. This statement is not to discredit or to diminish Kwong’s success, but rather to recognize its significance amidst difficult historical circumstances that affected Chinese Canadians’ lives.

     The subsequent chapters trace Kwong’s football career from his early days in junior football to his professional career with the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. He was only 15-years-old when he broke into the Calgary junior football league, and he became one of the league’s stars in just two years. While playing in that league, he was scouted and recruited by the Calgary Stampeders, and he worked his way from the bench to a starting position on the team. Continuing with the Edmonton Eskimos, Normie Kwong had record-setting seasons and contributed to that team’s success during the season and the Grey Cup. However, as Brignall emphasizes, Kwong had to work hard to advance his football career, a career during which he received awards and broke records, such as the all-time rushing record for Canadian football. Due to his success and popularity, Normie Kwong became nicknamed the China Clipper.

     Brignall’s descriptions of the football games evoke their excitement and will draw readers into the narrative. These sections are supplemented with historical images and photos from the City of Edmonton Archives, Glenbow Archives, and Edmonton Journal, all of which serve to dramatize the game of football as well as to highlight Kwong’s success, growing recognition, and the respect that he gained from the Canadian public. In doing so, the book portrays how one individual’s efforts can contribute to the transformation of an entire community’s image among the Canadian public. Saying this is not to trivialize the systemic and pervasive nature of the problems that Chinese Canadians faced, but rather it points out that part of resolving these problems is to change people’s attitudes. Besides sport, Normie Kwong achieved success in other parts of his life, including raising a family, becoming a successful businessman, and serving as Alberta’s sixteenth Lieutenant Governor. As a result, Kwong got recognized for his achievements instead of being defined or limited by his cultural and ethnic background, even as he remained proud of it.

     As part of Lorimer’s “RecordBooks” series, China Clipper would be a beneficial addition to the sports genre section of a library. However, it could also be part of the Chinese Canadian sub-collection or multicultural collection within a public or school library. Teachers could use it within a unit that focuses on the lives of immigrants to Canada, the difficulties they face, and the opportunities that are open to them. In this context, teachers could stimulate discussion around how Normie Kwong was able to successfully overcome the obstacles present at the time for Chinese Canadians. It would also be important for teachers to mention that, even as Normie Kwong is a role model, there are numerous other Chinese Canadians who did not reach the same heights of achievement. Indeed, pervasive problems existed for the Chinese Canadians community during that time. Nevertheless, such is not the focus of this book since it profiles the individual rather than the historical reality for an entire community. However, it is through this book that the history of Chinese Canadians can be made accessible to young readers who can come to identify with Normie Kwong, even if they, themselves, do not play sports.

     The novel’s language captures the excitement of playing in a football game, through which it narrates Normie Kwong’s professional sports life in the context of other events that have shaped his life and those of other Chinese Canadians. As the book emphasizes, Kwong’s remarkable achievements in professional sport have not only cemented him as a role model among Chinese Canadians, but also among all Canadians who recognize him as a great player. A glossary of football terms and a brief factual summary of how football is played will give valuable context to readers unfamiliar with the game and increase their understanding and enjoyment of the story. Finally, the book has an index of people’s names, historical events, and other key concepts related to Kwong’s biography. For example, readers can look up the pages that mention the Head Tax, Empire Stadium, and Don Getty.

     For more information about Richard Brignall and the “RecordBooks” series, readers can visit his official website as well as the publisher’s website at http://richardbrignall.com/ and http://www.formac.ca/formac-lorimer/.


Huai-Yang Lim has completed a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a research specialist. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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