As we continue with our bimonthly theme, Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience, I share with you My Name is Yoon, written by Helen Recorvits and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska. The country focus in this picture book is America. It tells the story of a little Korean girl named Yoon and the life changes she experiences as she starts a new life in a foreign place.
On School Blues and Losing One’s Identity. School plays a key role in a child’s social development. Children who go to school spend more time with their friends than they do with their family. It is in school that I think immigrant children make the most adjustments. Going to a new school is a completely different experience from, say, moving to a new country.
Yoon is an example of a child who not only struggles in a new environment but also refuses to be part of that environment. While I cannot speak for Koreans and their culture, Yoon values hers so much that she rejects change. This can be seen in the conversation below that Yoon had with her father.
“Soon you will go to your new school. You must learn to print your name in English,” he said. “Here. This is how it looks.”
I wrinkled my nose. I did not like YOON. Lines. Circles. Each standing alone.
“My name looks happy in Korean,” I said. “The symbols dance together.
“And in Korean my name means Shining Wisdom. I like the Korean way better.”
“Remember, even when you write in English, it still means Shining Wisdom.”
I did not want to learn the new way. I wanted to go back home to Korea. I did not like America. Everything was different here. But my father handed me a pencil, and his eyes said Do-as-I-say. He showed me how to print every letter in the English alphabet.
Yoon has an underlying fear of losing her cultural identity, the thing that defines and shapes who she is. I enjoyed reading the excerpt above because Yoon was simply adorable. I liked how she tried to reason with her father to no avail. I also liked how the two cultures were represented in that passage.
English As the Universal Language. My Name Is Yoon does not only speak of the immigrant experience. It implicitly tackles the subject of language and literacy. Yoon is too young to understand it, but learning to speak, read, and write in English is very important, especially when you’re thrust into the real world. I like how the book shows Yoon’s progress in learning English, and, in turn, slowly being receptive to the American culture.
The next day at school, I could hardly wait to print. And this time I wrote YOON on every line.
When my teacher looked at my paper, she gave me a big hug. “Aha! You are YOON!” she said.
Yes, I am YOON.
Endnotes. If I’m not mistaken, My Name Is Yoon is Helen Recorvits’s first book in her Yoon series. (Not sure how many books there are, but I found 3 so far. If you know of other Yoon books, we’d love to hear your recommendations.) My Name Is Yoon is a delightful read on the immigrant experience of a child. Heartwarming, funny, and very cute, My Name Is Yoon is sure to melt your heart.
About the Author and Illustrator
Helen Recorvits was born in Rhode Island and graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in education and psychology. She went on to earn a Master’s degree and also a certification in gifted and talented education. A former educator, Helen now devotes her time to writing and to speaking at conferences and literary events. (Taken from Amazon)
Gabi Swiatkowska studied painting at the Lyceum of Art in Bielsko, Poland. She has illustrated one picture book, Hannah’s Bookmobile Christmas, and has been a freelance artist. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. (Taken from the back flap of the book)