Asian Heritage Month: Children’s Feature: Books about Korea

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Children’s Feature: Books about Korea

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

In light of Asian Heritage Month and Mother’s Day, the posts on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet will feature children’s books and stories about and originating from Asian countries every day of this week.

To not only celebrate the beauty of Asian culture, it’s also important to share cultural stories with children to broaden their understanding of the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity.

Today’s children feature is about books and stories about and originating from Korea.

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The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon

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Category: Children’s/Korea

Author: Janie Jaehyun Park

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre

ISBN: 0-88899-485-0

Pub Date: 2002

My Review:

The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon by Janie Jaehyun Park is a retelling of a classic Korean folktale of a tiger out of hunger wishes to hunt for food. In a nearby village, he finds an ox sleeping near a cottage, but just as he plans to pounce on the animal, he hears a mother inside the cottage trying to calm her crying baby.

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Interpreting the baby’s cries as cries of bravery, the tiger believes that the baby is not fearful of the animals that its mother names—until the baby is appeased by dried persimmon, which the tiger confuses to be the “wildest and fiercest beast in the world.”

Persimmons

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Janie Jaehyun’s illustrative paintings are thickened with texture by the impression of her brushstrokes, which allows for the tiger’s expressions to take different forms.

It’s a modern retelling of one of Korea’s folktales that speaks to the outcome of foolish decisions that stem from pride, fear, and vanity and includes a note about persimmon at the end of the book.

Zara’s Rating

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The Firekeeper’s Son

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Category: Children’s/Korea

Author Linda Sue Park

Illustrator Julie Downing

Format Children’s Hardcover, 38 pages

Publisher: Clarion Books (imprint of Houghton Mifflin)

ISBN: 0-618-13337-2

Pub Date: 2004

My Review

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park is a children’s historical fiction of the early bonfire signal system used in Korea in the early 1800’s. The mountains faced the king’s palace and each fire had to “halves” and together the eight halves represented the country’s eight provinces. When lit, the king and his court would be assured of the country’s safety. When unlit, the king and his court would be alarmed to potential danger.

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This story is about Sang-hee, a young boy who must light the fire in lieu of his father’s injury in order to deter an onslaught of the king’s army to arise for battle towards an imaginary, non-existent foe.

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The art illustrations are realistic watercolour paintings that make a believable backdrop to the story.

It is a story that shares a little about Korea’s early bonfire signal system, the honour in inheriting long-standing traditions within a family and bloodline, and the importance of choosing to do the right thing in the name of the greater good rather than meeting one’s own personal desires.

Zara’s Rating

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The Royal Bee

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Category: Children’s/Korea

Authors: Frances Park and Ginger Park

Illustrated by Christopher Zhong-Yuan Zhang 

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press

ISBN: 1-56397-614-5

Pub Date: 2000

My Review

The Royal Bee by Frances Park and Ginger Park is based on a true story of the author’s grandfather, Hong Seung Han, an illiterate boy who was too poor to be allowed to attend school in the late 19th century, which is what makes this story even more compelling.

The story is about a young boy named Song-ho who was considered a sangmin boy, too poor to be allowed to attend school like the privileged yangban children, but dreamed “when he could read books and write poetry.”

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Even so, he asked Master Min, if he could be his pupil, but was rejected due to the rules of the education ministry. This, however, did not deter the young boy from hiding outside the school’s door to listen in on daily lessons—even in the cold of winter!

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While Song-ho was unaware of it, Master Min was well aware of his presence on a daily basis and finally asked him to enter the classroom to be tested by the students in his knowledge. Once passing the test, he was welcomed to attend the school regardless of the ministry rules.

Eventually, Song-ho was chosen to be the representative of his school at the school to compete in the Royal Bee held at the Governor’s Palace. Students are tested in their knowledge until a wrong answer removes them from the contest.

Song-ho was of the last remaining two people standing to be judged at the prestigious Royal Bee competition. And though he and his competitor were intellectually equal in their academic knowledge, it was Song-Ho’s personal and honest answer that deemed him the reigning champion.

The artist’s painted illustrations are just as tender as the story itself and a beautiful rendition of Korean dress and custom in the early 19th century.

The Royal Bee is an excellent cultural story that shares the historical dichotomy between the rich and the poor and its educational divide. But, most importantly, it also shares the lesson learned from opportunity gained through compassion, a willingness to learn, drive, and perseverance that far exceeds the limitations of poverty.

Zara’s Rating

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My Name Is Yoon

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Category: Children’s/Korea

Author: Helen Recorvits

Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Frances Foster Books (Imprint of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

ISBN: 978-0-374-35114-4

Pub Date: 2003

My Review

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits is about a young girl who migrates from Korea to America and feels anxious about using and writing out her name in English. As written in Korean, Yoon means “Shining Wisdom.” In English, she does not like how her name looks with “lines, circles, each standing alone.”

 윤

So, at school when her teacher asks her to write out her name “Yoon” on the empty lines of a piece of paper, Yoon rebels and writes out different English words instead like “cat,” “bird,” and “cupcake.”

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Yoon’s imagination recreates her identity as the animals and objects that she writes until an American girl finally befriends her from her class.

It is then, that she becomes ready to identify herself in the English written form of her name.

The illustrative paintings in this children’s book are gorgeous, depicting a very real main character.

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The story is one that speaks to the anxiety of the new immigrant experience and the time it takes to feel acknowledged, accepted, and ready to integrate or assimilate into a new culture without losing the identity of your native country. It’s a story of inclusion and empowerment of a young girl who comes to terms with who she is as a Korean and as an American.

Zara’s Rating

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To read more posts for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

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What’s one thing you appreciate most about Korea and the Korean culture?

Were you ever a new immigrant to a foreign country? If so, what was your experience like for the first time?

In what ways can we help make the transition easier for new immigrants in schools?

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My Korean name: Park Dae Rae

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