Today, we will visit Korea on our world tour through literature! A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park can broaden a literature approach to Medieval studies by taking the reader to 12th century Korea as viewed through the life of an orphan boy by the name of Tree-ear. The orphan motif is an oft repeated literary device that draws the reader into the story through pathos, and the author doesn’t fail in her use here. Tree-ear’s story is set firmly in the world of the highly skilled pottery artisans of Korea who first invented celadon pottery. Tree-ear learns their delicate but highly painstaking craft under a master potter and then must deliver the master’s works for a royal commission. The journey takes him through danger from both man and beast and teaches Tree-ear perseverance and loyalty. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 2002, this book not only teaches what medieval life was like for the poor, but also teaches the value of friendship and compassion.
So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins won the American Library Association Award in 1987 and tells a story of Korea, but with a twist. The young protagonist Yoko and her family are part of Japanese occupation forces in Korea (Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945), and must flee Korea when Japan begins to lose the war. Their harrowing escape and their attempts to pass themselves off as Koreans makes for a gripping and moving work based on the author’s own experiences. Though Japan was the aggressor–and often a cruel and tyrannical one–what Yoko’s tale shows is how women and children are victimized by war, and must summon almost superhuman courage and sacrifice to help those they love.
The last award-winning book on Korea is Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi and is the author’s own biography of her childhood growing up in Korea during the same period as the title above. Sook’s family are involved in resistance movement, and her brothers have been sent to labor camps, while her heroic mother keeps the family factory running and does everything in her power to protect her young female factory workers from the Japanese forces. When war separates Sook from her mother, she and her little brother must escape by themselves. Their journey is heroic, touching and miraculous!
This is just another brief installment on our Around the World tour through award-winning children’s literature which I will be covering in my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soiree! If interested, go here.