Admittedly, there are a lot of us who don't know all that much about the place where this year's Winter Games are taking place, which makes it even more difficult to start to teach our kids about the country. But this year's Olympics is actually a really excellent time for all of us to learn more about South Korean culture. While we'll all learn tidbits here and there while we tune into speed skating and ski jumping competitions in the next few weeks, these 10 children's books to teach your kids about South Korea are an even better, deeper place to start.
From the daily routines of South Korean kids explained in Living In... South Korea or beautiful Korean folktales in Korean Children's Favorite Stories, there's a wealth of information about a new-to-us culture at our fingertips, either from your local library or straight to your doorstep with a little Amazon Prime action. And while these books are designed for children, each and every one of them will enrich any adult's knowledge of the country that's going to be first and foremost on the sporting list in the coming days.
If you want to take the culture trip even one step further, order a stack of these books, read them with your children and then pick up some bibimbop, or other delicious Korean dish, for a truly South Korean experience.
1. Living In...South Korea
2. Bee-Bim Bop!
Did you know that bibimbop actually translates to "mixed rice"? Including a recipe for his family's meat, vegetable, and mixed rice bowl, Lee tells a story of a little girl helping to shop for the ingredients for the country's signature dish, helping her cook it, and sitting down to eat together. Your little one might not be daring enough to try bibimbop (although this would be a great primer before seeking it out!), but she'll learn a lot about South Korean culture from this children's book.
3. Korean Children's Favorite Stories
4. When My Name Was Keoko
For kids interested in history, When My Name Was Keoko explains the age before World War II when Korea was under Japanese rule. The two children in the book, Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, learn Japanese in school and everything about their own Korean culture is forbidden. This book takes on occupation in a way that's accessible for most middle school kids.
5. The Green Frogs: A Korean Folk Tale
Yumi Heo recounts a classic Korean folktale, that of two naughty frogs who love to disobey their mother. It's important to note that the mother does meet her demise, and the story ends on an unexpectedly gloomy note, not typical of children's stories in general.
6. The Firekeeper's Son
Another book about Korean history from the same author as When My Name Was Keoko, this time for a slightly younger crowd. The book explains that in the 1800's, news of a village's wellbeing was sent to the king every night by signal fires on mountaintops. If the king couldn't see a fire, he knew to send his army to save them. Sang-hee is the son of the village firekeeper and must take over when his father isn't able to light the nightly fire.
7. The Korean Cinderella
One great jumping off point for discussing different cultures with your kids is to compare how they tell similar tales differently. Korean Cinderella, or Pear Blossom, as she is called after the tree planted to mark her birth, is beautiful and loved by her father and mother. But when her mother dies and her father remarries, her stepmother is jealous of her beauty. With the help of magical creatures, called togkabis, Pear Blossom manages to accomplish the impossible tasks her stepmother sets out for her.
8. A Single Shard
A Single Shard is the story of Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan who lives under a bridge in a renowned potters' village. While Tree-ear is enamored with the craft, he finds it difficult and painstaking work when he is taken on as an apprentice by a master potter. In an attempt to prove himself to his master, Tree-ear makes a trip to present his pottery to the royal court and only arrives with a single shard.
9. The Story of Hong Gildong
While The Story of Hong Gildong is one of the most important in all of Korean literature, this chapter book was previously unavailable to English readers. The main character, Hong Gildong, is the illegitimate son of a government minister, and decides to leave home and join a band of outlaws because he isn't able to take up an honorable place in society. On his journey, Gildong has adventure upon adventure, all in the name of one day earning acceptance from his family.
10. The Name Jar
While this story takes place in America, it follows a little girl who has just moved from Korea and started school in the United States. When she fears her classmates will be unable to pronounce her name, she declines to tell them her real name and suggests they all help her choose a new name, putting the suggestions into a glass jar. It is only then that they all learn about the meaning of her Korean name and how to pronounce it.
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