A Piece of Home.
Watts, Jeri (Author) , Yum, Hyewon (Illustrator) Jun 2016. 32 p. Candlewick, hardcover, $16.99. (9780763669713).
“In Korea, I was ordinary,” says Hee Jun, who chronicles his family’s move to America and their gradual assimilation into their West Virginia community. Though he arrives at school knowing no English, within a few months Hee Jun has made a friend and is learning the language. After his little sister, Se Ra, acts out, biting and kicking her teacher, her grandmother stays in class to help her adjust. Soon they’re both learning English. One of the endearing aspects of Watts' book is Hee Jun’s awareness of his grandmother, an honored teacher in Korea, and her initial sense of loss and loneliness, which fade as she learns the language, befriends Se Ra’s teacher, and finds familiar flowers growing in her new country. This gentle, compassionate immigration narrative shows the difficulties of adapting to a new culture. Unlike most picture books on the subject, its setting is contemporary and its intergenerational story reflects the struggles of several family members. Scenes in Korea are written in past tense, but once the setting shifts to America, present tense adds immediacy to the simply worded, effective storytelling. Yum, a Korean artist who moved to America, contributes sensitive and expressive watercolor illustrations. A perceptive portrayal of an important American experience. — Carolyn Phelan