Hee Jun and his family have moved from Korea to West Virginia, where his father has accepted a teaching job. The whole family struggles: “In Korea, I was ordinary,” reflects the school-age boy. “I was not extraordinary, not different.” His grandmother, a “wise and wonderful teacher” in Korea, sits dull-eyed on their new front porch. After Se Ra, Hee Jun’s younger sister, “bites and kicks and even spits on her teacher,” it’s suggested that Grandmother attend school with her so they can both learn English. Yum’s (Puddle) colorful spreads carefully attend to the characters’ expressions, emotions, and relationships. Grandmother’s favorite Korean flower turns out to grow in the garden of Hee Jun’s new friend, Steve. “ ‘Rose of Sharon,’ Steve says. ‘It’s mugunghwa in Korea,’ I say. ‘It’s rose of Sharon here,’ Steve says.” When Hee Jun brings a sprig back to his grandmother, readers know it’s the beginning of an ordinary life for the family. Closely observed and greatly moving, Watts’s (Kizzy Ann Stamps) story is a useful springboard for discussions about difference and tolerance. Ages 5–8. Illustrator’s agent: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Agency. (June)
Watts’s elegant story and Yum’s soft, radiant art combine to make the book wrenching, hopeful and lovely in equal measure.
—New York Times Book Review
This gentle, compassionate immigration narrative shows the difficulties of adapting to a new culture. Unlike most picture books on the subject, its setting is contemporary and its intergenerational story reflects the struggles of several family members. Scenes in Korea are written in past tense, but once the setting shifts to America, present tense adds immediacy to the simply worded, effective storytelling. Yum, a Korean artist who moved to America, contributes sensitive and expressive watercolor illustrations. A perceptive portrayal of an important American experience.
—Booklist (starred review)
Closely observed and greatly moving, Watts’s (Kizzy Ann Stamps) story is a useful springboard for discussions about difference and tolerance.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Moving from Korea to West Virginia, a young boy leaves the familiar behind...Watts' clear storytelling successfully conveys Hee Jun's emotional journey to readers, and Yum's emotive illustrations sensitively complement the text. Immigrant children will relate to the head-spinning switch from ordinary to different, and their classmates might better understand the emotional impact of moving to a foreign land.
This immigration story, paired with Irena Kobald’s My Two Blankets, can offer readers who feel different and alone hope that things will get better, and may encourage others to help them on their way. The lengthy text paints a realistic picture of difficulties faced by a family striving to make a new start, and the positive resolution is quietly satisfying.
—School Library Journal
Watts presents an emotionally credible account of what life can be like for newcomers to a place and sensitively portrays Hee Jun’s experiences...Yum’s tidy watercolor illustrations feature her usual rosy-cheeked figures, and the art skill- fully conveys emotion, increasing the amount of background detail and using an ever-livelier palette as Hee Jun gradually settles into American life. Use possibilities abound for this thoughtful and thought-provoking title.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The soft colorful pictures connect beautifully to the emotions and relationships of the characters. This story is a great jumping-off point for discussions around tolerance, differences, and being the new kid in school.
—School Library Connection
K-Gr 2—When his family moves from Korea to West Virginia, Hee Jun has a difficult time adjusting. He doesn't look like the other children, he can't understand English, and when he tries to speak, the words "feel like stones…in [his] mouth." Even the sky looks "smaller and darker" than in Korea. His grandmother stays in school each day with his little sister, who is also having a hard time, but Hee Jun must cope on his own. As the months pass, though, brother, sister, and grandmother begin to learn English and Hee Jun slowly transforms from an outsider to an ordinary boy among his classmates. The story comes full circle when Hee Jun brings home a gift from a new friend—a rose of Sharon plant, the English name for the mugunghwa blossoms his grandmother grew in Korea. "'A piece of heaven,' she says. 'A piece of home.'" The young boy's distress, as well as his grandmother's, at not fitting in is evident in the large watercolor illustrations. He appears alone in his front yard, slumped over his desk, or frowning as he sits in the center of the classroom. Grandmother changes from the brightly dressed teacher she was in Korea to a bowed woman wearing drab clothing. But the mugunghwa plant, foreshadowed on the title page, brings renewed spirit to them both as they savor a piece of home. This immigration story, paired with Irena Kobald's My Two Blankets, can offer readers who feel different and alone hope that things will get better, and may encourage others to help them on their way. VERDICT The lengthy text paints a realistic picture of difficulties faced by a family striving to make a new start, and the positive resolution is quietly satisfying. A solid addition for most collections.—Marianne Saccardi, Children's Literature Consultant, Greenwich, CT
Moving from Korea to West Virginia, a young boy leaves the familiar behind. Watts begins this immigration story with Hee Jun describing his remarkable grandmother, who had sparkling eyes. "My grandmother could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary." She coaxes the national tree of Korea, called the mugunghwa, to flower, revealing delicate blossoms with bright red centers. Readers are shown Hee Jun's life back home, where he is ordinary. "A regular boy, playing and laughing and bossing my little sister." Life seems easy and commonplace. With the announcement of the move, the little boy swings from a carefree outlook to concern and frustration. The narration clearly describes his irritation with the language barrier, while the illustrations show Korean Hangul lettering in his dialogue bubbles. Emotions show clearly in Hee Jun's moon-shaped face as round-eyed classmates stare and the teacher speaks loudly to him. This tangible emotional struggle extends to others in the family as well. His little sister acts out, and grandmother loses her sparkle. But slowly, over time, the family adjusts to the new world, with Hee Jun teaching his grandmother the English name for mugunghwa. Watts' clear storytelling successfully conveys Hee Jun's emotional journey to readers, and Yum's emotive illustrations sensitively complement the text. Immigrant children will relate to the head-spinning switch from ordinary to different, and their classmates might better understand the emotional impact of moving to a foreign land. (Picture book. 5-10)