Moving from Korea to West Virginia, a young boy leaves the familiar behind.
Watts begins this immigration story with Hee Jun describing his remarkable grandmother, who had sparkling eyes. “My grandmother could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary.” She coaxes the national tree of Korea, called the mugunghwa, to flower, revealing delicate blossoms with bright red centers. Readers are shown Hee Jun’s life back home, where he is ordinary. “A regular boy, playing and laughing and bossing my little sister.” Life seems easy and commonplace. With the announcement of the move, the little boy swings from a carefree outlook to concern and frustration. The narration clearly describes his irritation with the language barrier, while the illustrations show Korean Hangul lettering in his dialogue bubbles. Emotions show clearly in Hee Jun’s moon-shaped face as round-eyed classmates stare and the teacher speaks loudly to him. This tangible emotional struggle extends to others in the family as well. His little sister acts out, and grandmother loses her sparkle. But slowly, over time, the family adjusts to the new world, with Hee Jun teaching his grandmother the English name for mugunghwa. Watts’ clear storytelling successfully conveys Hee Jun’s emotional journey to readers, and Yum’s emotive illustrations sensitively complement the text.
Immigrant children will relate to the head-spinning switch from ordinary to different, and their classmates might better understand the emotional impact of moving to a foreign land. (Picture book. 5-10)