Treasures from Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books, a publisher and bookseller dedicated to producing inclusive and diverse books, sent me a selection of lovely books that I can’t wait to write about. Their website says, “At Barefoot Books, our mission is to share stories, connect families and inspire children.” I’m impressed with the quality and diversity of the books I have been able to review from Barefoot Books.

My Big Barefoot Book of Spanish & English Words by Sophie Fatus. This picture dictionary includes words paired with pictures, but also a simple narrative that takes readers through the day with a family in Spanish. Each vocabulary word and each narrative sentence is accompanied by English translation. Beginners aren’t going to learn much grammar or sentence structure from a book like this one, but it’s a great format for vocabulary building. The illustrations are bright and colorful, acrylic painting and colored pencil, and the book itself is large enough for two people to share comfortably. No pronunciation guide, but again it looks like a great vocabulary builder.

The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain and Michael Archer. Mulla Nasruddin, “a legendary character whose adventures and misadventures are enjoyed across the Islamic world,” is the subject of these tales from the Middle East and Northern Africa. He’s a “wise fool”, the kind of guy who is often the butt of the joke but who gets the last word anyway in his disingenuous and sometimes innocent, sometimes shrewd, wisdom. Mullah Nasruddin is not above a little white lie or a trick now and then if he thinks it might serve a higher purpose, but he’s generally a harmless and benign presence in these tales. These stories would make a good comparison/contrast to Aesop’s fables, or one could try to pair each story with one of Solomon’s proverbs in the Bible. Just reading the stories and enjoying their sly wisdom could spark discussion and give a good introduction to Islamic and Middle Eastern culture. The illustrations are beautiful collage-type spreads in an Islamic mosaic style, but the many pages where the print is imposed on a deep colored background were hard on my (elderly) eyes.


Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. This picture book is a backlist title, originally published in 2005. However, it’s a worthy multicultural story, set in Kenya, about a boy and his mama who are planning a pancake supper. Mama rather mysteriously tells Adika that she will make ” a little bit and a little bit more” pancakes when he ask how many pancakes she plans to cook. So, Adika feels free to invite the entire community, all of their friends and acquaintances, to join them for the pancake supper. Will there be enough? The story ends like the old European tale Stone Soup and shows how a village can come together in generosity and community.


My Granny Went to Market: A Round-the-World Counting Rhyme by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr. Another backlist title from 2005, this counting book has Granny visiting ten different countries on a magic carpet purchased in Istanbul, Turkey at the beginning of the book. She ends up in Peru where Granny gives the magic carpet away to another adventurer. The rhymes are adequate, both rhythm and rhyme a little off, but the colorful pictures and the journey itself all around the world are worth a look. It’s short and sweet, for beginning world travelers.


The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis. Yet another backlist title (2008), this one begins with a poem about our dependence on bees by classic children’s poet Aileen Fisher. Then, Ms. Krebs writes her own poem in the style of This Is the House That Jack Built and tells about a boy’s admiration for his grandpa “who’s know in our town as the Beeman.” All the many aspects and stages of beekeeping and honey extraction are examined in rollicking rhyme as the boy and his grandfather care for the bees together. Then, there’s more information bout bees an beekeeping in the back of the book as well as a recipe for Grandma’s Apple and Honey Muffins. This story in rhyme is definitely a “keeper”.

Never Trust a Tiger: A story from Korea, retold by Lari Don, illustrated by Melanie Williamson. Based on the traditional Korean tale “The Tiger in the Trap”, this easy-to-read folktale plays out in six brief chapters. A merchant rescues a tiger from a pit where the tiger is trapped, but the tiger immediately proceeds to repay the merchant’s good deed with a very bad deed: the tiger is determined to eat the merchant. “You can’t follow a good deed wth a bad deed,” says the merchant. And the two of them decide to find a judge who can tell them whether or not bad deeds can follow good ones. The moral of the story: never trust a tiger, or be careful whom you help.

Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte, illustrated by Micha Archer, narrated by The Amador Family. This picture book, set in Spain, is accompanied by a audio CD narration with flamenco music as a background. Lola wants to distinguish herself from big sister Clementina by learning to dance the flamenco, but to do so Lola must practice hard. And she must find her duende (spirit, attitude, courage). Fandango, as well as I can ascertain, is a particular style of flamenco. This book would be hard to read aloud for those of us who are unfamiliar with flamenco and its rhythms. Lola practices the rhythm over and over, “Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA!” I would have no idea how to read this properly, so I’m glad the CD narration is included. There’s also a Spanish version of this title in the Barefoot Books online catalog.

There you have it. I’m sold on all of these books—and on books from Barefoot Books, generally. And I got to take a trip around the world while reading these delightful titles. What a bargain!

The Princess and the Beggar by Anne Sibley O’Brien

The Princess and the Beggar: A Korean Folktale adapted and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.

The Princess and the Beggar is sort of a Korean version of Beauty and the Beast. The Weeping Princess marries Pabo Ondal, the fool of the forest. As they live together and learn each other’s way, the marriage transforms both the princess and the beggar. Or as the book says, “In time—as they planted, tended, and mended together, they learned not to fear each other.”

The illustrations show the dress and countryside of Korea during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), when the nobility wore fine brightly colored silks and brocades, while the peasants wore plain clothing of white and gray.Ms. O’Brien, the author-illustrator, lived in South Korea for thirteen years, the daughter of medical missionaries. She heard the story of Pabo Ondal and the the Weeping Princess as a child. Her faithful retelling and her beautiful illustrations show a sympathy for Korean tradition and folklore as well as an ability to to interpret that tradition for Western readers.

I would read this story along with a picture book version of Beauty and the Beast and compare the two stories. How is Pabo Ondal like the Beast? How is he different? How is the Weeping Princess like Beauty? How is she different? Do both stories end happily? Which is more familiar? Which story raises more questions? Some good picture book versions of Beauty and the Beast are:

Beauty and the Beast by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.
Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett.
Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer.

I especially like that in this Korean tale it is the wife who teaches and also gives moral support and encouragement to her husband until he becomes the man he is meant to be. And then, “Ondal’s services to the king were many and great, but his happiness awaited him at the foot of Peony Peak.” (his home with the princess)

K-Drama Update, Summer 2015

So, here are the Korean drama series (K-dramas)that I’ve watched so far. Links are to full reviews.

'11_1024' photo (c) 2004, Lawliet Tsuki - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Full House. Romantic comedy with an implausible premise but irresistible characters and romantic scenes.

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600′s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South. This drama is still my favorite K-drama ever.
Headmistress at The Common Room on King2Hearts.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

Iris (Season 1) Unusual for K-dramas, this series has at least two seasons. I’ve only watched the first one. A spy thriller, lots of violence, fascinating, conflicted characters. My Semicolon review here. I think I’ll try the second season soon, which I’ve heard is even better than the first one.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.
Reviewed by The Headmistress at The Common Room.

Flower Boy Next Door. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon) is a popular video game star from Spain, and Go Dok Mi is a reclusive writer who guards her heart because she has been hurt deeply in the past. When Enrique catches Dok Mi spying on him —with binoculars–the fun begins as he pursues her. The boy next door, Jin Rak, is also interested in Dok Mi, but she just wants to be left alone–or does she? Dok Mi has one mood throughout: sullen and pouty and depressed. Nevertheless, the story was fun, and Enrique/Yoon is cute.

I Miss You Terribly sad melodrama dealing with sensitive themes such as child and spousal abuse, desertion, bullying, kidnapping and rape. It’s also about identity. Who am I? Am I who I decide to be? Is my family the people to whom I was born or the people I decide to make my family? And what about redemption and forgiveness? The ending, which is what I’ve learned you have to watch for in K-dramas, is heart-rending, but satisfying.

That Winter, the Wind Blows is a melodrama about a poor little rich blind girl who has no one to trust. Her father has just died (in mysterious circumstances). Her “step-mother” is really her father’s mistress and may be after her money. Her fiancé also may have ulterior motives. So she goes looking for her long lost brother from whom she was parted at the age of five, before she went blind. Unfortunately for her, the brother she finds isn’t her real brother. Complications ensue. The cinematography is beautiful in this one, and the acting is excellent, except when they linger too long on the hopeless, longing looks. But the ending is (warning!) really, really ambiguous and unsatisfying.

Dream High is a rom-com set in a performing arts high school. The Headmistress compares it to the American TV series Fame. Lots of competition, winning and losing, who’s the best singer/dancer/composer/performer. And there’s some cute romance among the (older) teachers and parents and among the students.

King of Dramas is a drama about making K-dramas. The leading characters are all K-drama writers or actors and actresses or producers. The Headmistress says it’s filled with inside jokes, which obviously went over my head, but I enjoyed the sort-of inside look at the industry anyway. The ending is rather unbelievably sappy, but I didn’t mind. It was much better than a more realistic ending would have been.

Heirs is a fairly new K-drama (fall 2013) starring Lee Min-ho, an incredibly cute and popular actor who also starred in City Hunter and a popular one I couldn’t get into, Boys Over Flowers. Lee Min-ho was good in this drama about high school puppy love among the rich and famous, actually rich boy and poor girl. The girl was a little bit annoying with all the pouting and enduring sadness. The girl’s mom was mute, and I enjoyed her character. The actress who played the mom was excellent. The rich dads in this drama are all horrible, and the rich moms aren’t much better. And yet the children try really hard to respect and obey their villainous parents. It’s a Korean thing, and I’m not sure it’s a bad Korean thing since most parents aren’t nearly as autocratic and manipulative and unreasonable as the parents in Heirs. At least, parents in the USA aren’t that bad, and I hope they aren’t in Korea either. I liked Heirs, and I agree with what The Headmistress says about the relationship between the brothers. However, the American in me really wanted both brothers to walk away from their dictator daddy and start their own company. They nearly did, but all is forgiven in the end.

I tried to watch You Who Came from the Stars—three different times—on the strength of recommendations from lots of K-drama fans, but I just couldn’t get interested in the same way that I fell into most of the above. I must have missed something that everyone else loved, but I don’t know what it was. I watched several, actually many, episodes, but the magic just wasn’t there for me.

Th K-dramas I’m going to try next: IRIS 2, God’s Quiz, It’s Okay That’s Love, Marriage Not Dating, Scent of a Woman, What’s Up?, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, When a Man Loves, and Pasta. Most of these suggestions I got from this post at The Common Room.

She Is Mine by Stephanie Fast

“Stephanie Fast is the name she was given in America. She does not know her original name, birth date, or place of birth, other than that she is Korean. Because she is biracial, Stephanie Fast was abandoned, left in a strange place to fend for herself, likely to die of starvation, disease—or worse.

Stephanie has made it her life’s work to try to help rescue every orphan out there—terrified, hungry, hurting, abused. If you believe that how we treat the most vulnerable among us determines our own humanity you will want to read Stephanie’s book—you will want to get to know Stephanie’s story.”

The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life. Her website says “Stephanie’s story will leave you moved—and changed.” It left me moved, yes, and puzzled. I was puzzled by the mercy of God and by His sovereignty. Why was Stephanie spared the fate of another child she writes about in her memoir, a baby who died abandoned on a trash heap after seven year old Stephanie, or Yoon Myoung as she was known in Korean, had tried to mother her and save her life? Why was Yoon Myoung/Stephanie adopted by an American couple and brought to the U.S. while other Korean orphans languished in orphanages or scavenged on the streets? I don’t know, and author Stephanie Fast provides no answers to those troubling questions. She can only testify to the fact that God saved her, and “in every instance of my life, whether I knew it or not, there was a greater, higher, wiser power propelling willing hearts to rescue me.”

Maybe God is “propelling” us to rescue just one, or to help, and we are not listening?

I recommend the book, but I do warn you that Stephanie’s story is a very difficult one which includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, and violence. Stephanie eventually is rescued, and her message is that there is hope. However, reading this book can be emotionally draining. Even if you don’t choose to read Stephanie’s story, please take this blog post as a cue to pray for Stephanie Fast and for the millions of orphans and abused children who are struggling for survival and hope even today as you are reading these words.

Stephanie Fast’s website.

Called to Love is a ministry designed to encourage and support adoptive and foster moms by providing an annual retreat.

Chosen International is a faith-based organization whose goal is to encourage teens who have been adopted to embrace God’s plan of adoption for their lives, and grow into spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood.

Christian Friends of Korea: hope and healing to the people of North Korea in the name of Christ.

New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services. (adoption agency)

Kazembe Orphanage, an orphanage in northern Zambia run by my friends, the Morrow family.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

North Korea in Books


North Korea is notoriously the most closed society and country in the world. I couldn’t take a trip there even if I wanted to or had the money to go.However, reading these books about North Korea and North Korean defectors made me want to know more —and inspired me to pray for those who are trapped in Kim Jong Eun’s “socialist paradise.”

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden. The man is Shin Dong-hyuk. His story is just about as intense and harrowing as that of Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame, but Shin’s story of torture, tyranny, and brainwashing begins from the time of his earliest memories. Shin was born in North Korea’s infamous Camp 14 to parents who were matched and allowed by the authorities to reproduce in a very limited way, to parents whom he never learned to love and from whom he received very little love or encouragement himself. He is the only known prisoner to have successfully escaped from a “total-control zone” prison camp in North Korea alive. Here you can hear a taste of Shin’s story in his own words:

Shin Dong-Hyuk’s story is not over, or even near over, and it remains to be seen what God will do in his life.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick follows the lives of six north Koreans (and their families to some extent) over the course of about fifteen years, from the early 1990’s until 2009. All are former residents of the city of Chongjin, located in the northern part of North Korea near the border with China. All six escaped North Korea to go first to China, then to South Korea. Ms. Demick, a journalist who spent some time living in Seoul and covering both Koreas, interviewed these defectors and worked to understand and enter into their lives to write this book about the famine in North Korea that extended through the last decade of the twenty-first century as it was experienced by average people in that country. The title comes from the children’s theme song of the 1970 North Korean film We Have Nothing to Envy in the World. The irony is inescapable as one reads of children eating grass and tree bark to fill their stomachs and old people dying quietly of starvation. The people of North Korea, for the most part, actually do have nothing to envy because information is so tightly controlled and limited that they don’t even know that the rest of the world does not share the harsh conditions that their succession of dictators, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong Eun, have inflicted upon them.

I plan to read more about North Korea soon, including the following books:

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.
The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom by Blaine Harden (the same author who wrote Escape from Camp 14).

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

More K-Drama Recommendations

Julie at Happy Catholic: When a Man Loves. Julie’s friend Renee says, “The main character, Han Tae Sang, is a thug for a loan shark who turns his life around. The show is full of great Catholic themes like mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.”

The Headmistress at The Common Room recommends You Who Came from the Stars. High praise: “I might even like it better than, or at least as well as, King2Hearts, my previous favorite.”

One reason I’m enjoying my exploration of the world of K-drama so much is the structure and composition of the dramas themselves. K-dramas generally have a set number (16-20) of related episodes. The entire drama has a beginning, a middle and an ending, and each episode builds on the ones that come before it. So, it’s a bit like watching a soap opera, but a soap opera with an ending. Some of the K-dramas are drawn out and artificially stretched a bit to fit this format, but the scheme usually works to give enough time for character development, but not so much that the plot and the characters’ interactions become repetitious and boring. In the best of the dramas, hints as to the characters back stories and motivations are embedded in the first few episodes, to be revealed and explored fully in the later episodes.

Unlike American TV series, which are more like a series of short stories about the same characters, very episodic in nature, K-dramas are like a novel with a long slow development of plot and characters until the action reaches its climax in episode 15, 16, or 17– and a final ending, either happy (comedic drama) or sad (melodrama) in the last episode(s).

I prefer novels to short stories.

K-Drama Update

So, here are the Korean drama series (K-dramas)that I’ve watched so far. Links are to full reviews.

'11_1024' photo (c) 2004, Lawliet Tsuki - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/IRIS (1) Spies, and traitors, and tragedy, and violence.

Full House. Romantic comedy with an implausible premise but irresistible characters and romantic scenes.

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600′s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.

Flower Boy Next Door. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon) is a popular video game star from Spain, and Go Dok Mi is a reclusive writer who guards her heart because she has been hurt deeply in the past. When Enrique catches Dok Mi spying on him —with binoculars–the fun begins as he pursues her. The boy next door, Jin Rak, is also interested in Dok Mi, but she just wants to be left alone–or does she? Dok Mi has one mood throughout: sullen and pouty and depressed. Nevertheless, the story was fun, and Enrique/Yoon is cute.

I Miss You Terribly sad melodrama dealing with sensitive themes such as child and spousal abuse, desertion, bullying, kidnapping and rape. It’s also about identity. Who am I? Am I who I decide to be? Is my family the people to whom I was born or the people I decide to make my family? And what about redemption and forgiveness? The ending, which is what I’ve learned you have to watch for in K-dramas, is heart-rending, but satisfying.

That Winter, the Wind Blows is a melodrama about a poor little rich blind girl who has no one to trust. Her father has just died (in mysterious circumstances). Her “step-mother” is really her father’s mistress and may be after her money. Her fiancé also may have ulterior motives. So she goes looking for her long lost brother from whom she was parted at the age of five, before she went blind. Unfortunately for her, the brother she finds isn’t her real brother. Complications ensue. The cinematography is beautiful in this one, and the acting is excellent, except when they linger too long on the hopeless, longing looks. But the ending is (warning!) really, really ambiguous and unsatisfying.

So, now, I’m ready for something a little lighter than the last two K-dramas I’ve watched. I think I’ll try this one called What’s Up? or else Dream High.t

The Trip Back Home by Janet S. Wong

Picture Book Around the World: Reading Through Korea I’m working hard on my Picture Book Around the World sequel to Picture Book Preschool, my preschool read aloud curriculum for homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartner. This week at Semicolon, we’re going to continue to visit Korea through the medium of a treasure trove of picture books featuring that country and its children.

This picture book about a child and her mother visiting the mother’s home in rural Korea gives a good feel for the ambience of farm life in South Korea, maybe a a decade or two back from now. The narrator and her mother give gifts to the family and accept gifts from their family as a framework for this story of exploration of Korean culture and customs.

The illustrations by Chinese artist Bo Jia are lovely, colorful and exciting. Story and pictures work well together, and the entire package gives children (and adults) a little slice of Korean family life.

I was reminded of childhood visits to my grandmothers’ homes, even though we didn’t have to go all the way to South Korea to visit them. And I felt a little nostalgic for those family times, reunions, and get-togethers. I’m probably painting the past with rosy colors, but it seems as if people had more time for family and visits and just sitting and talking when I was a child. Nowadays it’s my children who are too often too busy to spend time with their grandmother, even though she lives in a little apartment just behind our house.

Oh, well, it’s a good book for a unit on Korea or grandparents or family life—or just for reading together, snuggled up on the couch.

My Cat Copies Me by Yoon-duck Kwon

Picture Book Around the World: Reading Through Korea I’m working hard on my Picture Book Around the World sequel to Picture Book Preschool, my preschool read aloud curriculum for homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartner. This week at Semicolon, we’re continuing to visit Korea through the medium of a treasure trove of picture books featuring that country and its children.

The unnamed narrator of this simple story is a little Korean girl who has a pet cat. As girl and cat play together, the cat copies the girl’s actions: hiding in the closet, chasing after insects, sitting quietly together. Then the girl decides to copy her cat and gain strength and inspiration from the independence and fearlessness of her cat.

That’s about it. There’s not much of a plot, and the story ends where it begins, girl and cat together. The illustrations, by author Yoon-duck Kwon, are colorful and engaging, but rather odd in places, at least to Western eyes. In most of the illustration girl and cat stand together about the same size, which seems a little off. And in one picture the girl looks out from inside the cat’s eye. I don’t know exactly what that’s supposed to mean.

However, this gentle tale of a girl and her cat might appeal to cat lovers and pet adventurers as they identify with the girl and her pet. I just hope nobody tries to copy the girl on the front of the book as she copies her cat and crawls on top of a bookshelf full of books!

Poetry Friday: Tap Dancing on the Roof by Linda Sue Park

Picture Book Around the World: Reading Through Korea I’m working hard on my Picture Book Around the World sequel to Picture Book Preschool, my preschool read aloud curriculum for homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartner. This week at Semicolon, we’re going to continue to visit Korea through the medium of a treasure trove of picture books featuring that country and its children.

POCKETS

What’s in your pockets right now? I hope they’re not empty:
Empty pockets, unread books, lunches left on the bus–all a waste.
In mine: One horse chestnut. One gum wrapper. One dime. One hamster.

Linda Sue Park’s poem, POCKETS, is an example of a Korean sijo (see-szo or she-szo, with the j pronounced as the French pronounce Jacques), a three or six line poem with a fixed number of stressed syllables and an unexpected twist or joke at the end. Tap Dancing on the Roof is a book of sijo. These deceptively simple poems are a delight, but after reading over the end page, “Some Tips for Writing your own Sijo”, I am even more impressed with the difficulty inherent in writing a “simple” poem. Making it look easy isn’t easy.

Sijo were originally meant to be sung, and the songs “often praised the beauty of the seasons.” Yes, they’re similar to haiku, but whereas haiku are usually nature poems, sijo are about all kinds of subjects. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many sijo were written by women who were court singers. These sijo were often about love and romance. The poems in Tap Dancing on the Roof are about kid stuff nature, games, daily tasks, and family relationships.

I thought I might try writing my own sijo for this review, but after I read the poems in Tap Dancing on the Roof and thought about it some more, I decided that I’m not that talented as a poet. So here’s a poem I liked from the Sejong Cultural Society website:

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills, then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
and melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.
춘산(春山)에 눈 녹인 바람 건듯 불고 간듸업네
저근듯 비러다가 뿌리과저 머리우희
귀밋헤 해묵은 서리를 불녀볼까 하노라
U-Taek (1262-1342)