Historical Fiction – The Earth Dragon Awakes

The Earth Dragon Awakes:

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906


Yep, Laurence. 2006. THE EARTH DRAGON AWAKES: THE SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE OF 1906. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 9780060275242.

Plot Summary

Henry is the son of a banker and well-to-do family, and Chin is the son of their houseboy. The Dragon Awakes tells of their struggle to survive the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Yep alternates between the two boys stories, and intersperses the story with chapters detailing the historic and scientific details of the devastating disaster in this action packed adventure.

Critical Analysis

Young readers will eagerly follow the story of eight-year-old Henry and nine-year-old Chin as they endure the Earthquake of 1906 and struggle with their families to survive the devastation left behind. Although Henry and Chin come from very different worlds, they are good friends and they both enjoy reading about heroes like Wyatt Earp in their “penny dreadfuls” as Henry’s mother calls them.

Yep opens the story with foreshadowing as Henry’s dog, Sawyer, is upset, “Sawyer lifts his head and begins to howl again. Henry wishes he know what was upsetting him.” As Chin arrives home in Chinatown later that night, his neighbor Ah Quon is asking heaven, “to keep the Earth Dragon quiet.” But the Earth Dragon does not keep still and early on the morning of April 18th 1906, 375,000 square miles shake violently. The themes of family, survival, and community are woven throughout the book as Yep alternates between Henry and Chin’s very different neighborhoods and how the Earthquake and the subsequent fires destroy the city on the bay, and the residents fight to make it out alive.

Amidst the chaos that surrounds him, Henry sees his father in a new light, “Henry thought Marshal Earp was brave. But no outlaw was as deadly as Nature. This is an even bigger battle. And his father doesn’t back down.” In Chinatown, Chin now sees his father as a hero as well, “ ‘You saved me,’ Chin says. He was wrong to think his father wasn’t a hero.” The parallel story lines detail how the main characters, Henry and Mr. and Mrs. Travis in their affluent neighborhood, and Chin and Ah Sing in Chinatown, try to work with their neighbors in getting as many people out alive as possible. Mrs. Travis’ umbrella collection weaves another thread throughout the book, bringing some humor amidst the tragedy, but based on a real story.

Yep brings authenticity to the story when he alternates Henry and Chin’s stories of survival with chapters detailing scientific and historic facts about the 1906 Earthquake. Early in the book he explains in simple terms about tectonic plates, “The surface itself is broken into pieces called plates. Tall mountains and deep seafloors, people, animals, fish and forests are all on top of these plates.” Later he describes in detail the devastation from the earthquake, and the many ways the firemen work to stop the Great Fire from totally destroying the city.

The Afterword brings further authenticity to the story as this award winning author shares the sources of his research and his personal inspiration in writing this story. Yep also includes several historical photos showing the destruction in individual homes and throughout San Francisco.

Review Excerpts

BOOKLIST: “Told in the present tense, the narration provides a “you are there” sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “The stories depict heroic people doing heroic things and, while both boys appreciate their fathers, they certainly do not regard them as heroes. Not, that is, until the Earth Dragon roars into consciousness one spring morning, tearing the city asunder and making heroes out of otherwise ordinary men.”


Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award

Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee


  • Before reading the book with students look at this Book Trailer on School Tube: http://www.schooltube.com/video/eb9cc74e2a5239b45055/The-Earth-Dragon-Awakes-Book-Trailer
  • Explore the resources on United States Geological Society’s Web Site about the 1906 Earthquake, including photos, eyewitness accounts, and more: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906/18april/photos.php
  • Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or the Fire Department, and schedule a speaker to talk about disaster preparedness.
  • Divide the students into small groups to discuss the importance of working in teams and have them share examples of this from the book.
  • Science Connection – Research earthquakes and plan science activities about plate tectonics.
  • Social Studies – Use the book as an introduction to Chinese immigration.
  • Other books to explore about the 1906 Earthquake are: Earthquake at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory, and Earthquake in the Early Morning by Mary Pope Osborne.

Image from Harper Collins


About libraryloverleslie

I love libraries and books, most especially those for children and young adults. I’m a Children’s Librarian in the Pacific Northwest...living the dream!
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