Reading as a Collaborative Act: Interactions with Linda Sue Park

By Marie LeJeune and Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University

Mentor Author: Linda Sue Park

This week, we begin our exploration of some of our favorite authors whom we have looked to as mentors in our classrooms—authors whose work and words contribute to our teaching of reading, writing, language, and culture. Again, we draw upon the framework below for our initial selection of possible mentor authors when we embark upon such study with students. Additionally, we are currently deeply immersed in work with international issues, themes, and literature with both students and teachers in K-12 classrooms. We are now layering <a href="’s Framework for Mentor Author Studies with a Framework for International Curriculum (Short, 2003). In addition to seeking authors who are strong mentors for student writers—we also strive to consider and include issues of personal cultural identity, cross cultural studies, the integration of international experiences and texts, and inquiry into global issues (Short, 2003).

An author whom we believe is an ideal writing mentor for many classrooms is Linda Sue Park. Additionally, Park’s rich cultural themes within her texts offer the layering we describe above—not only do her books contain exploration of global issues, they also explore issues of insider-outsider perspectives on cultures. She is an example of an author who can grow with students; for instance her books include picture books, poetry, and novels. Her writing spans genres—historical fiction, poetry, realistic fiction, and speculative fiction. One of the most engaging and appealing aspects of Park’s writing is the way in which she plays with format and perspective and voice—When My Name Was Keoko is written in a two-voice format, Project Mulberry features a unique style with the author herself interacting with the protagonist at several spots between chapters, and Tap Dancing on the Roof introduces readers to Sijo poems, a style many may be unfamiliar with.

In The Wonder of It All (Johnson & Giorgis, 2007), a featured interview with Park shares details about her writing and editing process. We were delighted to read about Park’s understanding of her relationship with the children who read her books, when she commented that her idea for becoming an actual voice within Project Mulberry came from “…the millions of school visits I’ve done, I knew that kids were interested in the kinds of things that the character Julia was asking. She was the kid who was always in the audience asking questions about my work.” To us, Park’s comments truly reflect the spirit of mentorship we believe authors can offer to children and adolescents.

Instructional Ideas for Interacting with Park’s Work and Words

Drawing on Park’s unique narrative style in Project Mulberry, we are interested in exploring the book’s format and themes as both mentor text and cultural investigation. Park’s interactions with the main character, Julia, open up possibilities for rich classroom conversations about authors’ craft, decision making process, and purposes. Additionally, Park and her protagonist discuss identity issues related to race, class, and language within the book, providing avenues into critical literacy and cultural inquiry. When we reflect upon the book’s format and content, we’re interested in ways we might invite students to play with a similar writing format. What happens when a new voice is entered into a story’s narrative? How might they as readers interact with characters—especially those who come from different cultures and communities? How can such interactions alter the way a text is perceived? How does this open spaces for counter narratives? Does such work expand our perspectives of not only the texts we read, but the world we live in?

Park’s website ( ) offers other rich possibilities for studying her process and craft—including links to her blog (which includes details of her work with young readers and writers as well as her international travels), advice to student writers (we especially enjoy her ideas for family newspapers and swap journals), and other interesting literacy links.

Questions for our Readers

    •What other authors offer unique formats and styles that might inspire students as readers and writers?
    •We offer a few of our favorite titles by Park—we’d love to hear your reactions to her books. What titles inspire you and your students? What possibilities for inquiry could you recommend connected to her work?

For next time: Sherman Alexie

Links to Descriptions of Linda Sue Park’s Books on WOW’s Literature Database:
A Long Walk to Water
Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo Poems
The Firekeeper’s Son

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To view our complete offerings of WOW Currents, please visit archival stream.

One thought on “Reading as a Collaborative Act: Interactions with Linda Sue Park

  1. Kayla Heitz says:

    I have read,”Tap Dancing on the Roof,” and it is a wonderful book. I had never heard of Sijo poems and it is great than an author, such as Linda Sue Park, can bring that culture to students through poems. It is important that student’s perceptions of culture are enhanced throught stories and literature. It brings a voice to the culture and makes it real for students.

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