Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You Always Have To Watch Yourself

Recently I read The Best Winds by Laura E. Williams. It's a pleasant picture book about a very contemporary child who laughs at his Korean grandfather's "ancient ways." Grandpa has moved in with Jinho's family after the death of his wife, and he still wears hanboks and likes to drone on about his own grandfather.

I thought the two main characters were quite well developed, but I wondered how many Korean grandfathers who come over to the United States are that old world. It was a nice story, but maybe not all that believable.

Then I was driving in the car the next day when a thought relating to this book just appeared in my mind, fully formed. Why was I assuming the book was set in the United States? If the action took place in Korea, an old world granddad wouldn't be quite so far-fetched.

So I took another look at the book. On the very first page, grandpa is sitting under a long piece of what looks like Asian caligraphy. That might suggest this book is set in another country, but not necessarily. But one of the scenes in the kitchen definitely shows a canister set with what I assume are Korean labels. Then I realized that all the children were Korean. Oh, and, yeah, the main character's name is Jinho, remember, which isn't exactly Billy or Bobby.

This was a humbling expience for me. A reader is just a little too into her own culture if she assumes whatever she reads is set in her own country.

Eujin Kim Neilan's illustrations definitely enhance this book. While her human figures are sharp, the kite that draws Jinho and his grandfather together often appears a little on the abstract side, giving it an air of mystery.



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