I really hope this column feels quaintly irrelevant when it comes out, about three weeks from now, as I sit writing it. And I hope that the reason it feels quaintly irrelevant is not because the world is writhing under Harry Truman’s “rain of ruin” or Donald Trump’s “fire and fury.” I hope that it will feel quaintly irrelevant because, as it did in 1962, sanity prevailed and the rattling sabers have been put away.
But at this moment, it seems to me that our president and North Korea’s supreme leader would do well to remember that the people they are putting in danger are people. Here’s a short reading list to help these leaders see that the people whose lives they are threatening are people, not targets.
At the top of the list, of course, is Linda Sue Park’s Newbery-winning A Single Shard, in which 12th-century orphan Tree-ear finds family and purpose with a grumpy potter. It’s a celebration of decency and artistry that Kirkus called “a timeless jewel” when it was published. Moving several centuries closer to the present, Park also offers When My Name Was Keoko, about Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II, an examination of one Korean family under duress that also gives U.S. readers the barest sense of the beginnings of North and South Korea as we know them today.
That’s history. Two recent picture books capture life in modern Seoul, offering readers glimpses of children much like them. In Bomi Park’s exquisite First Snow, a child and a puppy experience the beauty and magic of a snow-filled night. And in Jin-Ho Jung’s playfully mind-bending Look Up!, a child in a wheelchair on a balcony stories above street level makes a connection with a kindred spirit down below.
In the taut, timely thriller In the Shadow of the Sun, by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Korean-American adoptee Mia finds herself and her brother on their own in North Korea—a country full of human beings we’d all do better to read about than to bomb.
And here’s hoping we all make it to October, when Julie Kim’s thoroughly delightful graphic fantasy Where’s Halmoni? is scheduled to hit shelves. In it, two Korean siblings venture into a fantastical land in search of their grandmother.
Let’s not forget Guam, home to some 160,000 U.S. citizens and potential North Korean target. There are not many kids’ books about Guam, but one that, like the books above, introduces readers to an unforgettable human character is Kimberly Willis Holt’s Keeper of the Night, about teenage Isabel and her struggle to recover from her mother’s suicide.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.