Kindergarten-Grade 2-With subtle grace, this moving story depicts a Korean girl's difficult adjustment to her new life in America. Yoon, or "Shining Wisdom," decides that her name looks much happier written in Korean than in English ("I did not like YOON. Lines. Circles. Each standing alone"). Still, she struggles to please her parents by learning an unfamiliar language while surrounded by strangers. Although her teacher encourages her to practice writing "Yoon," the child substitutes other words for her name, words that better express her inner fears and hopes. Calling herself "CAT," she dreams of hiding in a corner and cuddling with her mother. As "BIRD," she imagines herself flying back to Korea. Finally, she pretends she is "CUPCAKE," an identity that would allow her to gain the acceptance of her classmates. In the end, she comes to accept both her English name and her new American self, recognizing that however it is written, she is still Yoon. Swiatkowska's stunningly spare, almost surrealistic paintings enhance the story's message. The minimally furnished rooms of Yoon's home are contrasted with views of richly hued landscapes seen through open windows, creating a dreamlike quality that complements the girl's playful imaginings of cats on the chalkboard, trees growing on walls, and a gleeful flying cupcake. At first glance, Yoon seems rather static, but her cherubic face reveals the range of her feelings, from sadness and confusion to playfulness, and finally pride. A powerful and inspiring picture book.
Teri Markson, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School, Los Angeles
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
K-Gr. 2. "I wanted to go back home to Korea. I did not like America. Everything was different here." Yoon doesn't want to learn the new ways. Her simple, first-person narrative stays true to the small immigrant child's bewildered viewpoint, and Swiatkowska's beautiful paintings, precise and slightly surreal, capture her sense of dislocation. Reminiscent of the work of Allen Say, the images set close-ups of the child at home and at school against traditional American landscapes distanced through window frames. In a classroom scene many children will relate to, everything is stark, detailed, and disconnected--the blackboard, the teacher's gestures, one kid's jeering face--a perfect depiction of the child's alienation. By the end, when Yoon is beginning to feel at home, the teacher and children are humanized, the surreal becomes playful and funny instead of scary, and Yoon is happy with friends in the wide, open school yard. Now she is part of the landscape. Hazel Rochman
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