This is a sweet, compassionate book about the heartache of pulling up roots and trying to settle in to a new place.
In Korea, things were good. Grandma was a "wise and wonderful teacher. When students bowed, she held her shoulders erect, her eyes sparkled."
Even at home, my grandmother could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary.
His grandmother was pretty awesome.
Friends and words were easy in Korea.
And then.... his professor father took a job at a law school in West Virginia.
I found my world packed into three boxes and one suitcase.
What to take, what not to take. How can you condense so much life into boxes?
West Virginia is strange. For all of them.
"...my grandmother stays at home, and she does not hold her shoulders erect and her eyes don't gleam--not at all."
In West Virginia, I am not ordinary--I am different.
My new classmates smile and talk, but it is a sharp noise. Their names sit like stones on my tongue: Steve. Tom.
I love how this book illustrates the difference between your native habitat and a new habitat--I think it is important for children to understand that they would feel weird and odd in other cultures, just like immigrants feel a little separated from our American culture when they come to our country.
The night is too dark, too quiet.
Even well meaning people get it wrong.
His little sister, Se Ra does not suffer this treatment gladly. She gets so frustrated she bites the teacher. The grandmother is ashamed and offers to accompany Se Ra to school to keep her under control.
Such a come down from her place of respect in Korea.
After a time, he can start to say American words. Things become a little more "normal."
He makes friends.
Grandma is learning in Se Ra's classroom as well. She makes a friend in Se Ra's teacher.
Playing at his friend's house, Hee Jun sees the same plant his grandmother had in their garden in Korea. His friend's mother sends home a shoot and some blossoms to bring back to his grandmother. In Korea they were called mugunghwa, but in West Virginia they are called Rose of Sharon.
A little piece of home.
This gets me because I have a fondness for familiar botanical things. After living in Alaska for four years, I was so delighted to come back here and see the wildflowers I grew up with. Whenever we visit Colorado now, I get excited to see the wildflowers I got to know living there.
Pretty much I just like plants. But I like how plants are so connected to a place.
Finally, finally, after a long time and a lot of work, things become ordinary in their new home.
I can say "Steve, come over," light like a bubble on my tongue.
And that is ordinary in our new home.
It is interesting to think about the struggles this family felt and realize that they came here with relatively few problems. They weren't fleeing disaster, drug lords, or drought. They weren't worried that their family was being bombed back home. (Well with the state of things in North Korea, Koreans might have reason to be mildly concerned about that.) Can you imagine how much more difficult this all would be if you were stressing about all those other things?
I love, love this book for illustrating the immigrant experience. Even though it is just from one perspective, it give kids a chance to start to think about how immigrants would feel and learn a little compassion for them.