WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures



Something for School
Written and illustrated by Hyun Young Lee
Kane/Miller, 2008
ISBN: 978-1933605852

Yoon is nervous rather than excited on her first day of kindergarten. The boys and girls are asked to line up in two lines order to take a picture with teachers to celebrate their entrance into school. Yoon lines up with the other girls; however, girls mistake her for a boy and ask Yoon to move to the boys’ line and the boys welcome her as a boy. When a boy who lives in the same building with Yoon tells others that Yoon is a girl, she bursts into tears. Her first picture in the kindergarten is taken while she is crying.

In order to look like a girl, Yoon tries on her mother’s handbag, sunglasses, and high heels. Finally, she thinks that her sister’s headband with pretend curly hair could make her look like a girl. With the special headband, Yoon has a wonderful day with friends in the kindergarten. No one calls her a boy; however, the next day, her sister retrieves her headband and Yoon must go to kindergarten without it. She is worried that other boys and girls would again mistake her for a boy. This time, however, no one considers her a boy, and they want to play with Yoon, accepting her as she is. She does not worry about the special headband and about being mistaken for a boy. Yoon truly enjoys going to the kindergarten and playing with her friends.

This picture book was originally written in Korean, 곱슬곱슬머리띠 [gopseulgopseulmeritti] and published in 2006. Hyun Young Lee wrote and illustrated this picture book. Before this book, she illustrated several picture books by other authors, but this is the first book for which she was the author as well. As she had experienced illustrating several books about children’s experiences in kindergarten and nursery school, she was well aware of how children feel before coming to school. In this picture book, she succeeds in showing children’s feelings within a new environment in a simple story. Her illustrations are colorful and attractive and can arouse children’s curiosity about different aspects of South Korean culture.

In spite of the simple plot, the story includes many issues, such as gender and self-esteem. The gender issue is clearly described in the book. The reason Yoon is mistaken for a boy on the first day is her appearance. Yoon has short hair and wears pants while other girls have long hair and wear skirts. At the end of the story, although Yoon does not change her appearance, the boys and girls accept Yoon just as she is. The illustration on the last page clearly reflects the author’s message about gender and self-esteem. There are two pictures of Yoon–one taken on the entrance ceremony and one taken later in the kindergarten. In both pictures, although Yoon wears pants with short hair, she is with both a boy and a girl. This book could provide a chance to think about gender and self-esteem within different cultures. During the reading, teachers will need to be careful that parents do not impose preconceptions about gender, such as a girl should wear a skirt and have long hair.

Even though this book does not clearly describe Korean cultures, it might be an entry book for Korean cultures, especially contemporary Korean life. By focusing on a general theme, readers are more likely to find commonalities with different cultures. The theme of self-esteem within Korean culture is found in The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi, 2001) and the theme of food can be found in Bee-Bim Bop! (Linda Sue Park, 2008), which has interesting rhymes that are easy for children to follow and a recipe for making Bee-Bim Bop, the traditional Korean food. The theme of holidays can be found in Sori’s Harvest Moon Day (Uk-Bae Lee, 1999) and New Clothes for New Year’s Day (Hyun-jooBae, 2007). The former book is about the traditional Korean holiday, Chu-sok, similar to Thanksgiving. The latter book is about welcoming the lunar New Year in Korea and introduces the ways in which Koreans spend their time and wear new clothes during the holiday. Family issues can be found The Zoo (Suzy Lee, 2007) and Behind the Mask (Yangsook Choi, 2006). The latter book introduces not only family relationships but also the Korean mask dance.

JeungDeok Kim, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

2 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

  1. Hello,
    How I wish I had found this posting before I submitted my changes for the paperback version of Karma! As you can imagine it is not easy to write of Indian culture as a foreigner. All assurances to readers that I did enlist the help of three Indo-Canadian writers for assistance with the language (one writer of HIndu descent and two Sikh-Punjabi writers). Not only did they read for accuracy but also made many of the additions that you refer to as incorrect. Sigh. It is so difficult to get things right. Writing Karma was a very risky undertaking that I spent three years on. To explore both a culture and the dire political situation of 1984 as an outsider was fraught with peril but I was committed to telling this important story. My hope was to bring to light the relatively unknown massacre of the Sikhs to the general community as well as write about the difficulties of immigration, identity and adolescence. It was a work of passion that I am proud of. Many thanks for taking the time to read Karma and offer your thoughts. I learned much for your post. All my best, Cathy Ostlere

  2. Shri Ramakrishnan says:

    Hello Cathy,
    Thank you for your gracious response! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and was stunned at the meticulous descriptions of daily life in India, especially considering that your first visit to India was not exactly very pleasurable. India is complex and it is very challenging to view it as a single entity or a single theoretical construct. I admire and applaud your resolve to write a novel about my homeland despite the challenges of being an outsider. And I also applaud your thematic choice for the main plot – the riots following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are some of the least known and least discussed topics of Indian politics. I hope you will be writing another such powerful story set in India pretty soon! Warmest regards, Shri Ramakrishnan

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