My GrandMom (Gee-eun Lee)

Hello, friends! First, let me apologize for the recent inconsistency in our reviews – as the fall semester has worn on, we are having trouble posting in a timely manner. Please be patient with us, and we will hopefully be back to our regular schedule within the next few weeks.

But for today, we wanted to bring you a review of the delightful and touching My GrandMom, written and illustrated by Gee-eun Lee and translated by Sophie Bowman, a tender look at the special relationship between grandmothers and their grandkids.

Based on the author/illustrator’s experiences with her own GrandMom – or Halmoni – the reader quickly learns that little Gee-eun and her Halmoni have a special bond. When Gee-eun is upset, Halmoni can soothe her with warm comfort food and fantastical stories. When Gee-eun worries that her mother won’t be able to attend Family Sports Day, Halmoni assures her of the elder’s grace and athletic ability. Yet when the two compete at the aforementioned event, Halmoni and Gee-eun are not able to win the race. Still, Halmoni does what GrandMoms do best: finds a way to turn the day around with kindness, love, and a comforting snack.

Equal parts entertaining and touching. Lee’s personal connection to the work shines in every facet, from the strikingly realistic details of the interactions between Gee-eun and Halmoni, to the whimsical and warm childlike illustrations. To me, the best part is how the story manages to show that Halmoni is human and imperfect while also illustrating what a special place she holds in Gee-eun’s life and heart. It’s a honest look at our relationships with the people we love; sometimes they try their best but let us down, still we love them all the same. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ loved the combo of peaceful story and lively illustrations. Overall, a lovely treat, and we recommend it – Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi)

Hello, friends! Happy MLK Day! In honor of Dr. King, we took the Read Your World pledge to read a children’s book about diversity today, and we chose The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. This is a lovely story about a little girl who, after emigrating from Korea, considers taking an “American” name.

When Unhei moves from Korea to New York City, she is nervous for many reasons. Everything in America is different, even the names. When some older children on the bus tease her over her name, she decides that she might like a different one, and tells her new class that she will decide her name by the week’s end. To her surprise, her new classmates support her and provide her with a jar full of suggestions. Unhei begins to feel more welcome, and enjoys going through the names, but none of them feel quite right. Will Unhei decide to take an American name, or will she have the courage to keep the name she feels is hers?

This was a great book about cultural identity and how many kids can feel peer pressure to abandon theirs for the comfort of “fitting in.” I LOVED that Unhei’s classmates immediately supported her decision both ways: when she wanted to change her name AND when she decided to keep it. Plus, it was a great way to subtly introduce the real practice of immigrants adopting anglophone names, and the emotional conflict it can bring (I went to a high school that was around 50% Asian & Pacific Islander, and many of my friends had two names). It’s a complex subject that can spur thoughtful conversations about how our names, our cultures, and our personal identities can often be interconnected.

In addition, the illustrations are great and suit the story very well. This book is a bit long for baby bookworms (JJ was starting to get antsy), but it’s a great one for older kids and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!