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Monday, September 12, 2011

Spotlight on Linda Sue Park: Author

Up until July of this year, I had never read any of Linda Sue Park's books.  I enjoyed the first one I tried (When I Was Keoko) so much, that I hurried back to the library  for more!  I haven't read all of Park's work yet, but I've read most of it, and now consider myself a fan. :)  Park has written several novels for middle grade and young adult readers, and also a handful of picture books, including the following, which  I highly recommend:

Seesaw Girl, 1999... Jade Blossom is the 12-year-old daughter of an aristocrat in 17th century Korea.  Like other girls in her position, she is expected to stay within her family's inner court at all times, until she marries.  (Then she will live --and stay-- inside her husband's home.)  Jade longs to see the world outside, and comes up with a secret plan to do just that.

I love how vividly Park paints her pictures of the past, with her words.  She took a time and place that I was wholly unfamiliar with, and made it come to life as I read.  Jade Blossom is a very likeable character, smart and fiesty and curious... all the things that females were NOT supposed to be in her world.  I rooted for Jade throughout the book, and couldn't wait to see what happened!

The Kite Fighters, 2000... This is the story of two young Korean brothers in 1473.  Kee-sup, the oldest brother, designs and builds kites fit for a king.  Young-sup, on the other hand, is an expert kite flier.  For the upcoming New Year's kite fighting competition, however, tradition dictates that the first-born son represent the family.  Both boys struggle to find their place in the world, to balance convention with their respective talents.

Once again, Park took a subject I knew little about and created a compelling story out of it, complete with interesting characters.  Along with information about kite fighting, I also learned quite a bit about Korean traditions and culture in the 1400's.  I cared about the characters, and eagerly read to find out what they would do.

Read my thoughts on the following two books here.

A Single Shard, 2001...

When My Name Was Keoko, 2002...

The Firekeeper's Son, illustrated by Julie Downing, 2004... In Korea during the 1800's, firekeepers communicated from village to village (and, eventually, to the king) with their signal fires.  This is story of Sang-hee, the young son of a village firekeeper.  He faces a hard decision one night when he must take his father's place and light the fire so the king will know that all is well.

I loved the beautiful illustrations in this book -- they complemented Park's story so well.  This is a picture book geared toward older children, not toddlers.   Those children who can sit through and understand a longer, historical tale are sure to enjoy it, however!  (And so will their parents!)

Project Mulberry, 2005...  Julia Song and her friend Patrick need to find a project they can do for the state fair.  When Julia's mother suggests raising silkworms, Patrick is enthusiastic, but Julia thinks the project will be "too Korean".  She eventually agrees to it, however, and together the friends discover things they never knew -- about silkworms, about each other, and about the world.  At the end of each chapter, Park "converses" with her character Julia, who doesn't understand why the author chooses to write various scenarios into the story.

As a writer, I got a kick out of the dialogue between Park and Julia.  I've had similar conversations (in my head) with some of my own characters.  I also found the story of Julia, Patrick, and their project engaging.  Park once again piqued my interest right away, taught me some new things, and made me want to keep on reading!

Bee-bim Bop!, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, 2005... Through the use of rhyming text, Park tells the story of a little girl helping her mother to make bee-bim bop, a traditional Korean dish.  Park even includes her own recipe for the dish in this book.

This is a fun book to read out loud, with cute illustrations to match.  I haven't tried to make bee-bim bop yet, but hope to someday!

Archer's Quest, 2006... Kevin is busy doing homework when an arrow... and then a man... appear out of nowhere.  The man calls himself Chu-mong, the Great Archer, and somehow he has traveled through time, to Kevin's room.  The two must figure out how to get Chu-mong back to ancient Korea so that he can help his people, or history will be changed forever. 

I appreciated the humor that runs through this story, much of it from seeing our modern world through the eyes of someone from the distant past.  An action-packed book that also teaches some Korean history in an entertaining way, this is a fun read!

Keeping Score, 2008... Nine-year-old Maggie is a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan in 1950's New York.  Though her father no longer works at the fire station, Maggie still spends much of her time there, listening to Dodgers games and talking Dodgers with the other fire fighters.  When the new guy, Jim, shows Maggie how to score baseball games, the two become friends, despite the fact that Jim is a die-hard Giants fan.  Then the Korean War comes crashing into Maggie's life -- Jim is drafted and sent away to fight.

I was a little worried before reading this book that I wouldn't like it, simply because I am not a sports fan.  At all.  I should've known that Park could even make baseball interesting to me!  Right away, I got hooked into the story line and the colorful characters.  Along the way, I ended up learning quite a bit about baseball and the Korean War, two subjects I was pretty unfamiliar with beforehand.  Keeping Score is more than just a baseball book, however.  It is also about family, friendship, and holding onto hope.

A Long Walk to Water, 2010... This book is based on the true story of Salva, a boy from Sudan.  In 1985, when he was 11, Salva's school and village was attacked by rebel soldiers. The boy ran away, leaving everything and everyone he knew behind.  Suffering horrible conditions, he traveled on foot to Ethiopia, and later to Kenya, where he became one of 3,800 "Lost Boys" airlifted to the United States in the 1990's. 

In alternate chapters, this story is also about a young Sudanese girl in 2008.  Nya must walk eight hours every day to fetch water for her family.  As an adult, Salva returns to his home country, helping to bring wells to the remote villages there, including Nya's.

This is an incredible and important story that encourages its readers to think differently about the things we take for granted every day.  The book is filled with both hardship and hope.  I recommend it more for young adults (and adults) than for middle grade readers, however, Park does treat the often heart-breaking subject matter carefully, keeping young readers in mind.

To learn more about Linda Sue Park and her wonderful books, please visit her website.  And don't forget to check out her work at the library and bookstores!

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