On Other Resources for Educators

Activity Guide from Island Readers & Writers

Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 in Novel: In the Shadow of the Sun, Novel: Tools for Educators, On Events & Presentations , On Other Resources for Educators | Comments Off on Activity Guide from Island Readers & Writers

In October I’ll be traveling from my own Maine island to make author visits at three schools on the islands of Islesboro, North Haven and VinalHaven, hosted by Island Readers & Writers (IRW).

In preparation, IRW has created this wonderful activity guide for In the Shadow of the Sun, including discussion questions, art and writing prompts, companion titles and resources for further exploration.

Here’s one prompt:

Write up a pack list of items you would bring with you on a harrowing trek through the North Korean countryside. Based on Mia and Simon’s experiences, what would be some of the most important supplies to have?


Read More

Novel References & Recommended Reading

Posted by on Jan 20, 2017 in Novel: North Korea, Novel: Research & Process, On Korean Books & Culture, On Other Resources for Educators | Comments Off on Novel References & Recommended Reading

These books and films emerged as some of the most significant for me as I wrote In the Shadow of the Sun, especially in illuminating the variety of contemporary life experiences of North Korean people. I encourage readers to seek out primary sources, to learn from authentic North Korean voices speaking about their own experiences. (Resources appropriate for younger audiences are marked with an asterisk.)

The Bradt Travel Guide, North Korea * (2003, 2007, and 2014 editions) by Robert Willoughby, the “only major standalone tourist guide to North Korea.” The guidebook Mia brings with her is based on the 2005 reprint of the 2003 edition.

Camp 14: Total Control Zone,” a filmed interview with Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only person known to have been raised in and to have escaped from a no-release North Korean prison camp. Shin has since admitted that not all details of his account were accurate, in both the film and a book about his experiences — for instance, that he was not born in the camp but sent there with his family as a young child. But observers seem to agree that as his story is similar to accounts of other former adult inmates and guards, it still provides important and accurate information about
the realities of prison camp life.

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea (Atria, 2015) by Jang Jin-sung, a rare account from the elite perspective of a poet laureate to Kim Jong-il.

Every Falling Star* (Amulet Books, 2016) by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland, a young adult memoir of a boy, born into a privileged family, who spent five years scrounging on the streets as a “flower swallow” before escaping to South Korea.

The Girl with Seven Names (William Collins, 2015) by Hyeonseo Lee, a richly detailed memoir of growing up in a high-status, relatively affluent family and crossing the border into China as a willful teenager, an unwitting defector.
(Ms. Lee, now an activist on behalf of North Korean defectors, has a popular 2013 TED talk.*)

My Daily Life in North Korea (MYSTERIOUS 7 DAY TRIP)”* (2016), a 14-minute video by “digital nomad” Jacob Laukaitis that takes the viewer along for a typical DPRK tour.

North Korea Confidential (Tuttle, 2015) by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, the most up-to-date and comprehensive account of the astonishing changes that North Korean society is currently undergoing.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) by Barbara Demick, a rare picture of daily life in the northeast and the devastating impact of the 1990s famine, based on interviews with defectors.

A State of Mind”* (2004), a documentary film that follows two young gymnasts in Pyongyang as they compete for the privilege of performing in the Mass Games.

Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America (HMHC, 2015) by Joseph Kim with Stephen Talty, a memoir of a North Korean childhood, from comfort to deprivation to street life, before escaping as a teenager.  (See also his TED talk.*)

Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim (Broadway Books, 2015), an account by a Korean American investigative reporter posing as an English teacher at a Pyongyang school run by foreign missionaries.

For details of North Korea tours, I consulted numerous online blogs and photo essays. NKNews.org (by subscription) offers a comprehensive source of news about the DPRK.

Read More

Story First: Using Children’s Books to Explore Korean Culture & Identity

Posted by on Aug 30, 2015 in On Events & Presentations , On Korean Books & Culture, On Other Resources for Educators | Comments Off on Story First: Using Children’s Books to Explore Korean Culture & Identity

At the National Association of Korean Schools Teacher's Conference

At the National Association of Korean Schools Teacher’s Conference

Once again I participated in a National Association of Korean Schools teachers conference – the second in a week – this one the New England chapter, in North Andover, MA. (It’s a complete coincidence that I did them back-to-back; this invitation came through another Korean acquaintance.) Annual gatherings like the two I attended offer teachers (mostly volunteers) from across a region the chance to connect and to gain new knowledge, skills and inspiration to improve the effectiveness of their instruction.


Korean schools usually meet on Saturdays or on Sunday afternoons after church, when Korean American families bring their children to study reading, writing and speaking as well as to learn more about Korean culture. The schools also attract families formed by interracial adoption or marriage, and a surprising new trend is non-Korean teens showing up motivated to learn the language based on their love of K-pop and anime!

It’s interesting to note the similarities in the two events: Korean churches as venues; a preponderance among teachers of recent immigrants whose first language is Korean, rather than 2nd- or 3rd-generation members; and opening with the singing of both the “Ae-guk-ga” – the Korean national anthem, and “The Star- Spangled Banner”. These traits seem typical of that segment of the Korean American community whose adult members are foreign-born; it’s Korean-language-based, centers around Protestant churches, and claims both Korean and American allegiance.

My presentation (in Korean again, but this one benefited from last week’s warm-up) focused on using books in Korean language school classrooms to help children absorb culture, strengthening their connection to Korea and their bicultural identities. I featured two of my titles, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, and What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, which I illustrated, as examples of how books can be used, and shared a list of titles, most by Korean American authors, for further exploration.

Some recommended books on Korean culture
Preschool – 2nd grade
Bae, Hyun-Ju, New Clothes for New Year’s Day
Park, Linda Sue, Bee-bim Bop!
Schoettler, Joan, Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Park, Linda Sue, A Single Shard; Seesaw Girl; The Kite Fighters; & Archer’s Quest 
Middle/High School
Kim Dong Hwa, The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven  (graphic novels)

Some recommended books on the Korean American experience
Preschool – 2nd grade
Park, Frances, Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Han, Jenny, Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream
Yoo, Paula, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story
Middle/High School
Lee, Marie G., Necessary Roughness & Finding My Voice
Na, An, Wait for Me 
Woo, Sung J., Everything Asian
Yoo, David, Girls for Breakfast
Yoo, Paula, Good Enough 
Questions for discussion: 
How are the characters like you? Different from you? 
How was being Korean an asset for the character? A challenge? 
Did you learn anything cool about Korean culture or about being Korean? 
Read More

Teaching Korean Students

Posted by on Jun 24, 2013 in On Events & Presentations , On Korean Books & Culture, On Other Resources for Educators | Comments Off on Teaching Korean Students

My most recent trip to Korea gave me an opportunity I’d never had before: I was invited to present one of my books to two different groups of Korean children – in Korean!

The first group was a class of 6th graders from Daejeon on an overnight retreat near Sejong City, run by the Humanity Recovery Movement Council (Huremo) a nonprofit focusing on personal development through the use of journals – called “love diaries” – to “help children think and plan for themselves and make their dreams come true.”

I talked about my own childhood dream of becoming an artist, and of how growing up in Korea gave me a vision of the common humanity of all people. Then I shared a little of the process of creating my graphic novel, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, and some tricks for enhancing the elements of story when composing comics, such as zoom-in (character), zoom-out (setting), and using diagonals to convey a sense of movement.

The students then drew rough sketches of a scene from the Hong Kil Dong story, emphasizing character, setting or plot.


Ten days later I met with a smaller group of children, ages 4-12, at the Seoul office of Huremo, as part of a camera shoot with Arirang TV (more about this in my next post). I told them about my childhood in Korea, and a little about the book. Then we drew dragons together.




What a sweet treat to spend time with such a small group of kids!


Read More

Parenting Across Race

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Author's Korean Connections, On Other Resources for Educators, On Transracial Adoption | Comments Off on Parenting Across Race

A new essay I wrote,”Raising Yunhee” on transracial adoption and parenting across race, has just been published at Korean American Story.


“Adopting Yunhee was one journey; raising her was another. My own passion for Korea, which became my second homeland and the source of my second culture and second language, made me determined to give Yunhee a sense of her birth legacy. But how does a white American, even one who grew up in Korea, raise a Korean American – on an island in Maine?

Yunhee was the model for Brianna in Brianna, Jamaica and the Dance of Spring

The essay examines how we attempted to give our daughter not just a sense of where she came from, but also encouragement to voice her experience of growing up as an American of color, and the challenge that posed for us as white parents:

“Talking about race gave Yunhee permission and language to unpack her own observations and experiences, and a structure for understanding the nuances of racial identity in America. At various ages and stages, it helped her find her voice to express her grief, her rage, her confusion (at age six, “Why couldn’t somebody in Korea take care of me?”)… It was essential for me not just to convey that all her thoughts and feelings were welcome, but also to become aware enough of the filter of my own white and non-adopted privilege that I could respect Yunhee’s authority in naming realities as she perceived them. I had to work to not inadvertently discount her observations and difficulties just because I wished they weren’t true.”

Korean American Story is building a fine and useful archive of narratives across the spectrum of Korean American identity, a significant contribution to exploring what it means to be American.
Go take a look.

Read More

Exploring a Bicultural Experience

Posted by on Mar 19, 2012 in On Korean Books & Culture, On Other Resources for Educators | 2 comments

One of my favorite blogs, Korean American Story, has just published a piece I was invited to write for them, “Of Longing and Belonging.”

This relatively new blog has already built a thoughtful and insightful collection of essays and fiction on what it means to be Korean and American, including immigrant, U.S.-born, and adoptee perspectives.

Read More