Decorative WOW Currents Banner

Confronting History: Using Realistic Fiction to Reflect on Historical Journeys

Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM

This winter, while visiting Seoul, I felt like I a special reporter assigned to a foreign country. While I am there, Seoul amazes me with its advanced technology and great public services that I wish were available to me in the U.S. Korea is busy, young, and somewhat more modern than I remember from my last visit. I go to places where crowds of foreign tourists enthusiastically hang out. People, old and new, meet at Starbucks and other European coffee franchises. They are beloved here. All of it makes me feel like I am in a real city. Watching sophisticated Korean people subtly reminds me that my new home is Albuquerque. I grew up in Korea and married a Korean man from Seoul. Visiting Korea every other year allows me to comprehend the many rapid changes in Seoul. It is my native culture, yet it is no longer home.

Bookstores are also places that I feel and notice changes. Selections in the children’s area as well as the young adult section are growing more rich and creative. Floods of new genres and themes in children’s literature thrill me. I just want to sit down and read them all!

As I reflect on my experiences living in the U.S. I often focus on how Korea is perceived by the many Americans I meet. When I moved to the U.S. about 10 years ago, people often tried to engage me in a conversation based on their knowledge of Korea. All too often Korea is still remembered within the context of the Korean War, fought some sixty years ago. Sometimes, younger adults ask me whether I am from South Korea or North Korea. It is obvious that they don’t recognize the difference. Before my departure on this current trip, I was frustrated with most American’s limited knowledge about Korea and the Korean War. The question, “Which Korea are you from?” seems innocent enough, yet it reveals an ignorance of the politics on the Korean peninsula.
Continue reading

Decorative WOW Currents Banner

Confronting History: Young Korean Diasporas During WWII and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico Albuquerque NM

Why, in the classroom, is immigration often presented only as a parochial issue? Seldom do U. S. students read and discuss migration as a worldwide political and economic concern. Far too often their understandings of other countries are formed from easily generalizable geographical and cultural information. This denigrates the complexity of socio-political realities and the historical experiences of other countries. For example, they often reference Africa as one large nation instead of as a continent of many countries and diverse cultures. They are primarily aware of dominant groups within countries who, for their part, are frequently dismissive of others (i.e. Koreans in Korea dismissing non-Koreans). Sophisticated inquiry required for deeper understandings of global issues is too often neglected. I want to, then, introduce two books that may challenge such superficial assumptions about other nations.
Continue reading

Decorative WOW Currents Banner

Confronting History: Experiencing Historical Tragedy Through Stolen Voices

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

“I didn’t know what was happening in Asia during WW II. I had no idea Korea was under Japanese occupation!” Every semester I repeatedly hear this message from my preservice teachers after reading books like When My Name Was Keoko, by Linda Sue Park. I wonder, “How did they miss this in their American history courses?”

These comments, and the picturebook The Grandmother Who Loves Flowers by Yoonduck Kwon, were catalysts that led me to reflect on the childhood texts I read, as a young Korean schoolgirl, about the WWII Japanese occupation of Korea. Seeking the truth about our history was important to me, but it was also equally uncomfortable. The Grandmother Who Loved Flowers is based on the story of Dahl Yun Sim, a thirteen-year-old Korean girl, kidnapped by Japanese soldiers during WW II as she and her sister were out picking wild greens.

Continue reading

Decorative WOW Currents Banner

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.
Continue reading