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Beyond the Nutcracker, Baba Yaga, and Ivan the Fool: Russian Children’s Books Mirror Ideology

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

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Russian children’s literature and culture are obscure subjects in the West. When they come up in a conversation, even the most Russia-savvy students shrug their shoulders and produce a genuinely puzzled look on their faces “ (Balina & Rudova, 2008, p.xv,)

Earlier I looked at two books, Breaking Stalin’s Nose and Arcady’s Goal, set in repressive Stalinist Russia. I then introduced The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, an informational text describing the establishment of the Soviet Union. In doing so I developed a real curiosity about the development of children’s literature written in Russia. Continue reading

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Not-So-Happily-After: Russia’s Last Imperial Family and Broadening the Landscape of Children’s Russian Literary Experiences

 by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

RomanovsIn the story Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine (Whelan, 2014), the queen loves to swim. Her swimming is not without a dilemma: how does a queen swim and still maintain “propriety?” The more she thinks that she shouldn’t swim, the more she wants to swim. In the end, her husband solves the problem. Sharing this not so public side of Queen Victoria is what makes this a truly delightful book. In the illustrations, the queen isn’t depicted with glamorous looks or in elegant dress, despite the fact that she was one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. Instead, she looks like any ordinary middle aged woman Continue reading

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Historical Injustices Revisited: New Stories for Young Readers

 by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

dependency-62283_640December has always been my month to contribute to WOW Currents. In many ways, it has become a special month for me since it is at the end of the year and offers me, like everyone else, an opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months. As we mentally “write our stories” at years end, our reflections often lead us to revise what some of these recurring and evolving “stories” might look like in the next year. We share and connect through these stories. They are an important medium that enriches the many facets of our lives.

As I surveyed new historically based titles, some of those “old” histories have taken on a new patina. Continue reading

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Hearing Unheard Voices: New Mexico’s Children’s Literature

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

NMLiteraturewLand of Enchantment! — official nickname of the state I live in: New Mexico. I recall being urged to acquire some kind of “Green Chile literacy” about the culture and history of New Mexico before even packing for Albuquerque. (Green Chile sauce was selected as the best “iconic” American food in 2013). So this week, my focus is on the unheard voices of significance in local literature that helps readers experience and even question cultural omissions and the consequent cultural marginality that results. More importantly, how do we assess how that marginalization in local literature affects readers who identify themselves in books about “my/our place.” Continue reading

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Hearing Unheard Voices through Global & International Children’s Literature

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

HearNoEvilLast week I attended the Literacy Research Association conference. I came home empowered and inspired to reflect on, “what now?” Conference presentations titles that I perused and thought about attending all focused in some way on “voice.” For example, providing conceptual tools for educators to sensitively engage with transnational parents in the United States, well meaning “global” teachers’ describing their classroom’s journey in global literature, a biography writer describing the vulnerability experienced while writing about a historically great man in Taiwan (Chiang Kai-Shek), exploring teacher candidates’ resistance to understanding textual code-switching in books dealing with immigration issues, etc. As a result, my own, new personal goal can best be described as “reading to listen.” Continue reading

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“Stereotypocide”: Rethinking Cultural Traditions

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Korea’s traditional beauty is mirrored in its architectures, symbols, pottery, and ancient palaces and make up most of the common “Korean” postcard faces I encountered when I visited one of the most popular and largest bookstores in Seoul, Kyobo books. I mumbled, “interesting,” and felt and tasted a kind of betrayal. I felt I have fought consistently for a postcolonial non-Eurocentric portrayal of Asian and Korean cultures in my children’s literature studies, yet such traditional subjectivity is produced and consumed internally in Korea as a mark of Koreanness. Tradition is like a double edged sword providing rich cultural facets and, concurrently, glaringly flawed over-representations of a culture, producing a “tunnel vision” (Scott,1998, p.47) of narrow understanding of that culture.
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Between Trends and Reality: Revisiting Reviews and Discussing Cultural Authenticity

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

December is not only the last month of the calendar year, but it also holds a special significance for academia as it marks the end of yet another semester. Most importantly, though, December is a time for reflecting upon the past year’s events and for valuing family, friends, and other acquaintances in our lives. I thought, then, I would ask myself what I recall that was most interesting, delightful, and even troublesome in terms of children’s literature around the world. What stands out for me is cultural authenticity — the trendy hot key phrase of the 90’s that, while seeming to have become a semi-retired hot issue, still remains an unresolved tension in children’s literature today.
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Korean Rediscovery of the Power of Historical Fiction

by Yoo Kyung Sung, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

This December I want to, literally, take you to a different world of words — more specifically a world of words in South Korea. Lately, Korean picture books have gotten worldwide attention due to their noticeable growth and uniqueness in styles. (From now on ‘Korea’ refers to South Korea in this post). Publishers, like Kane and Miller, have translated and published large numbers of picture books from Korea. The global attention and recent popularity of Korean picture books has triggered domestic scrambles among publishers in Korea to produce high quality picture books. In the last five years a number of new book awards have been created. This new movement focuses on encouraging the development of new writers and illustrators by recognizing, through awards, young potential authors and illustrators.
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