Getting to feel at home in a new country
Yoon’s name means Shining Wisdom, and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, like dancing figures. But her father tells her that she must learn to write it in English. In English, all the lines and circles stand alone, which is just how Yoon feels in the United States. Yoon isn’t sure that she wants to be YOON. At her new school, she tries out different names – maybe CAT or BIRD. Maybe CUPCAKE!
Helen Recorvits’s spare and inspiring story about a little girl finding her place in a new country is given luminous pictures filled with surprising vistas and dreamscapes by Gabi Swiatkowska.
"My name is Yoon. I came here from Korea, a country far away," begins Recorvits's (Goodbye, Walter Malinski) first-person narrative, as noteworthy for what it leaves out as for what it includes. Swiatkowska's (Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas) opening spread similarly conveys a sense of starkness, with a landscape of rolling hills and towering trees in small clusters; the serene narrator appears in a white dress. With a turn of the page, readers see Yoon dwarfed by the seemingly endless checked flooring of her new American house. She sits at a large white table where her father teaches her to write her name in English ("I did not like YOON. Lines. Circles. Each standing alone. My name looks happy in Korean. The symbols dance together"). At school, Yoon refuses to write her name. Instead, she fills her paper with other words she learns from the teacher, such as cat. "I wrote CAT on every line. I wanted to be CAT.... My mother would find me and cuddle up close to me." Yoon's words betray her sadness and insecurity at relinquishing some of her Korean identity, while Swiatkowska's painterly artwork translates the girl's fantasies. A close-up of Yoon's face shows feline ears protruding from her jet-black hair, while in the background, a real cat balances on a window sill. A turning point comes when a classmate offers Yoon a cupcake, and the heroine imagines herself as one; her round face a leafed cherry atop the pastry as she floats above the classroom. Yoon may be new to America, but her feelings as an outsider will be recognizable to all children. Ages 4-8. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.