Written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
Read along with Unhei, a young Korean girl who has just moved to the United States with her family! Along with missing her grandmother back in Korea, she’s faced with a brand new challenge in her adjustment to an American school – nobody can say her name! At first she feels self-conscious because all the other kids struggle to pronounce it and think it sounds funny, so she decides that she’ll pick a new, American name to go by. All her classmates help her brainstorm, but it is only with her given name, full of rich cultural and familial meaning, that she truly feels like herself. In the end, through kind classmates, a letter from her grandmother, and other Korean members of the community, she finds the confidence she needs to claim her name and teach her classmates to say it – and understand its meaning.
This book is extremely well written with a good mix of engaging dialogue and narrative, but it’s a little long – somewhere in between a picture book and early chapter book. Because of that, it would really be best suited for a kid who doesn’t rely on quick page turns to stay interested. The book does a beautiful job of making us feel that we really know Unhei and her personality through sharing her thoughts and feelings as she goes along throughout the week or so throughout which the book takes place.
Additionally, it gives us glimpses into Korean culture through values Unhei’s mom emphasizes, food that they eat, and the name stamp Unhei always carries with her. It’s a great way to show children Korean culture, and the transition from Korea to the United States, in an interesting and relatable way.
During the reading:
- On the very first page, before we know anything about Unhei, we see that she’s simply nervous for her first day of school. I think the author starts out that way intentionally, so that we get a chance to see what we have in common with Unhei before we learn about any differences we might have with her. Take this opportunity to make that connection between your child and Unhei! Ask them how they feel on the first day of school, how it makes them feel when they ride the bus or walk up to school, etc.
- After that first page, the narrative shifts to her remembering leaving her grandmother behind in the airport in Korea. Make sure your child understands that transition and explain how Unhei just moved in to the United States, but her grandma still lives in Korea, which is really far away!
- When all the kids on the bus are saying her name strangely, ask your child how they would feel in that situation. Help them to see how that kind of behavior is not nice or acceptable, and maybe talk about what they could do if they saw somebody else in a situation like that to make them feel loved.
- When you get to the part of Unhei talking with her mom, you have the chance to really show great appreciation for Korean culture! Respond really positively to the values her mom lists and show how we want to study hard and behave nicely, too! And how lots of things in Korea are different like their names and foods they eat, but we have lots of things in common, and those differences are really cool, just like her mom tries to show her!
- It is so kind of all of Unhei’s classmates to help her pick a name! Ask your child how they think she feels when the other kids start the name jar, and praise how nice they all are to try to help her do what she wants to do. You could point out a specific time your child has helped somebody else with a goal of theirs, and praise that kindness. Reinforcing that will help teach them that kindness is a highly valued trait to you and help them to feel good about what they did, which makes them more likely to be kind again in the future.
- Help your child to appreciate Korean culture again by pointing out how beautiful Unhei’s name is in the stamp!
- Ask your child what they think happened to the name jar and where they think it went! They’ll probably have no idea whatsoever, but guessing about what will happen later in the story can be a good exercise of imagination, reasoning, and keep them involved in the story.
- Talk to your child about how great it was that Unhei was true to herself and chose her own name that she likes best, even though it’s different and was tricky for the other kids to say at first! Emphasize the importance of how she was brave and persistent in teaching the kids how to say it and how she didn’t just try to be like the other kids! She was nervous earlier in the book about if the American kids would like her or not, but she decided to choose her name because she liked it, not because she thought they would like it. And they did once she taught them why she liked it and how to say it!
- If your child’s name has special meaning, tell them about it or ask them if they remember it! This will help them to feel really positively about their identity and relate to Unhei even more.
- Ask your child how Joey was a good friend. It would be helpful to point out the specific things he did in the book to get to know Unhei and how he was kind to her and the things that made her different!
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