The Name Jar written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
Reviewed for Illustration
Choi’s art style is unique in children’s picture books as it moves away from loud and bright colors and sticks to more muted and realistic color themes in the beginning. It is interesting to see this change as Unhei moves through the world and her perspective changes to her new world. For example, the colors when she first enters her class the colors are morose but when she goes to Mr. Kim’s market the colors become more vibrant. As she gets more comfortable in her class the colors though the same feel more vibrant because the illustration itself seems to show a Unhei’s comfort. However, Choi’s true artistry can be seen in each character shown in the story but more on that later.
The illustration is perfectly paced with the story. While the illustrations could carry the story if you viewed it as a puzzle of sorts I don’t think as a first read through the intention of the story would be as clear. The use of color to convey emotions is what adds the most depth to this illustration as we see the changes through Unheis eyes.
Choi did something amazing with her illustration of each character we see, she gave them individuality. Each character depicted has their own story and you can see it in every aspect of the story like when Unhei is on her way to Kim’s Market with her mom and we get a snapshot view of the neighborhood. Or on Unhei’s first day of school where we meet her classmates or the kids on the boss. No two characters are the same. Every stranger we see is different and this is where the illustration stands out.
The illustrations are culturally accurate to my knowledge and from my research. Nothing from the art style or the illustration stands out to me as being culturally insensitive, stereotypical, nor a caricature of the culture. On the contrary, the culture was portrayed and celebrated beautifully as the importance and specialness of choosing a name was explained.
Yangsook Choi is from Seoul, South Korea and as such is an insider to the culture portrayed. Just like Unhei Choi emigrated from South Korea to the United States so her experiences influenced her story.
The Name Jar has received several glowing reviews including ones from the New York Times, Philadelphia Times, And Kirkus Reviews. It was also a California Young Reader Medal Nominee, A Best of the Best by the Chicago Public Library, An Ira Teachers’ Choice, PBS Reading Reading Selection, An ABA Kids’ Pick of the List and A Math Reads Book from Marylyn Burns Pick. It’s hard to find a flaw within both the illustration or the story itself and most reputable reviewers agree.
The story is superb in showing the hardship of moving to a new country and feeling like you need to assimilate to that new culture in any way necessary. The illustrations help to drive the story with its uses of color to show emotions and illustrations of gestures to show how cultural bridges can be built without being offensive. Unhei’s story is universal in the United States as many children migrate from other countries and cultures and feel like outsiders who need to change who they are to fit in.
Top 5 Asian / Pacific / Middle Eastern-American Illustrative books for Children
1. Drawn Together written by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat
Language isn’t the only way we can communicate and in this book, a boy spending time with his grandfather learns this as they bypass cultural barriers. Even though the boy is of Vietnamese origin he is all-American, speaking English and eating American food and his grandfather is all Vietnamese, speaking only Vietnamese and eating Vietnamese food.This proves to be a difficult visit as communication is limited until the boy takes out some paper and pencils and starts to draw. Suddenly they found they could communicate beyond words through art. It’s a beautiful story that shows that even though generations and cultures can clash when it comes to communicating verbally there are other ways that we can still share meaning and understanding. With a powerful story and beautiful illustrations, it’s a must-read. It’s also won many awards like the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature – Picture Book, Frostburg State Children’s Literature Centre Award: Best Picture Book of 2019, Southern CA Independent Booksellers Association Best Picture Book of the Year, 2019 Anna Dedney Read-Together Award Honor, Association for Library Service to Children Notable Children’s Books of 2019, 2019 Charlotte Huck Award Recommended Book, 2019 CHHIBBER Medal for Best Picture Book, and International Literacy Association 2019 Notable Books for a Global Society.
2. Duck for Turkey Day written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter
Tuyet is concerned about not having turkey for thanksgiving as her family tradition is to have duck. So much so that she even tries to buy a turkey herself but can’t find one at the Asian market she goes to with her grandmother. Though she enjoys her holiday, when she gets back to her class after the holiday she practically burst into tears as she exclaims how she didn’t have turkey but duck for turkey day. That’s when we get to see the class erupt with all the different dishes they had for thanksgiving that didn’t include turkey. The teacher ends the discussion but telling Tuyet that it’s not the food that matters for turkey day but that you enjoy the time you spend with your friends and family. It’s a great book about how even when we celebrate the same holiday we do it with different traditions. The book was a 2012 Washington State Children’s Choice Book Award nominee, a Tennessee Volunteer State Book Awards 2012-2013 nominee Primary Division, and an NCSS Notable Book for Young Readers.
3. Festival of Colors written by Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Festival of Colors is all about the Holi, the Indian Festival of Colors. In this book siblings prepare for Holi by gathering colorful flowers to make the powders to toss during the festival. It’s a beautiful story and illustration about a cultural celebration filled with not just wonderful colors but fresh starts, friendships, forgiveness, family, neighbors, and of course lots of fun. Festival of Colors is a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year Selection title and a Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Reading List selection.
4. Malala’s Magic Pencil written by Malala Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoet
This book tells the story of Malala Yousafzai and her fight for equality in education in her home of Pakistan. It is told in a child-safe way and easy to digest way for children age 4-8 to understand while still keeping true to her story. The best part of this book is that the author is writing her very own story for children and has done it so effortlessly. After reading the book, you too might be wishing for a magic pencil but I think the take away will be that you already have one. Writing is one of the most magical instruments we have to speak out against that which we see as unfair. Malala’s Magic Pencil was nominated for the 2018 Little Rebel’s Children’s Book Award, 2018 Buckeye Children’s Book Award and won the 2018 Amelia Bloomer Book List Early Readers Nonfiction, 2018 Jane Adams Children’s Book Award for Younger Children, ALA-CBC Building a Home Library Booklist 2018, Capital Choices 2018 Seven – Ten, Amazon.com Best Books of 2017 Ages 6-8, Goodreads Choice Awards 2017 Picture Books, Chicago Public Library Best Books of 2017, Informational Books for Young Readers
5. The Runaway Wok written by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by Sebastia Serra
This is a great story in the form of Jack and the beanstalk and Robinhood but so much more fun and with a much more interesting premise. After being sent to the market by his mother a boy trades for a wok when he should have traded for rice. The wok turns out to be pretty magical as it flies off to rich households getting filled with different things like food and toys and returning to the boy and his family. The wok leaves each time to a rich household always returning with riches. The boy’s family shared all the riches with the neighborhood. The book ends with a Chinese New Year Celebration. The Runaway Wok was a 2013-2014 Iowa Goldfinch Award Nominee, 2013 Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award Nominee, 2012 Storytelling World Resource Award, and 2012 Lasting Connections Top 30 Titles from Booklist.
Authors & Illustrators:
- Minh Le
- Dan Santat
- Yin Chang Compestine
- Malala Yousafzai
- Kabir Sehgal
- Surishtha Sehgal
- Yangsook Choi
- Grace Lin
- Ho Baek Lee
- F. Zia
- Ken Min
- LeUyen Pham
- Bao Phi
- Hena Khan
- SanJay Patel
- Aaliya Jaleel
- Arab-American Book Awards
- Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature
- CALA Best Book Award
- Kundiman Poetry Prize
- Middle East Book Award
- The Scholastic Asian Book Award
- South Asia Book Award
- Arab-American Book Award – http://arabamericanmuseum.org/bookaward
- CALA – http://www.cala-web.org/node/881
- Kundiman – http://www.kundiman.org/prize/
- Middle East Book Award – http://www.meoc.us/book-awards.html
- The Scholastic Asian Book Award – http://scholasticbookaward.asia/SABA/index.html
- South Asian Book Award – http://southasiabookaward.org/
- Mihn Le – http://minhlebooks.com/
- Yangsook Choi – https://www.yangsookchoi.com/
- Pragmatic Mom Blog – https://www.pragmaticmom.com/
- Book Dragon – http://smithsonianapa.org/bookdragon/
- MissPandaChinese – https://www.misspandachinese.com/resources/recommended-materials/
- Teaching Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage K-5 by National Education Association – http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/teaching-api-month-k-5.html
- Asian-American and Pacific Heritage Month Resources by Teacher Vision – https://www.teachervision.com/holidays/asian-pacific-american-heritage-month
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Resources by Colorin Colorado – https://www.colorincolorado.org/books-authors/literacy-calendar/asian-pacific-american-heritage-month#resources
- APALA – http://www.apalaweb.org/
- CALA – http://www.cala-web.org/
- Association of Jewish Libraries – https://jewishlibraries.org/index.php
- Kundiman – http://www.kundiman.org/
- Middle East Librarians Association – https://www.mela.us/
- Talk Story – http://talkstorytogether.org/
- Teaching Books Asian / Pacific American Collection – https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?go=1&adv=title&culturalArea=APA
- NYPL Reading Stories that Define #OwnVoices: 20 Asian Pacific American Picture Books and Children’s Comings – https://www.nypl.org/blog/2019/06/03/asian-pacific-american-picture-children-books
- Reading Rockets – Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage – https://www.readingrockets.org/booklists/celebrating-asian-pacific-american-heritage