My children generally agreed that it is important to learn about what inspires authors to become writers and illustrators and what motivates them to create stories. They wanted this to be the focus of their biography. They believed that gaining insight into the author's childhood could be a place to begin. In this regard, they generated this basic list of questions:
When and where were you born?
What was life like in your community?
What was your childhood like?
Did you always like to draw and/or write stories? What led you to know you wanted to be an author/illustrator?
Preliminary focus established, my students rolled up their sleeves scrutinizing the work of Yangsook Choi. I was amazed at the sophistication with which the children connected with each story and the line of questions that they developed based on each reading:
The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy/Storyline:
Little Red Riding Hood
tales, this por quoi tale explains how daylight and moonlight came to exist in Korea. It infuses aspects of the traditional Korean culture beginning with the belief that deceased loved ones serve as protectors of the living. The work also stresses the importance of mother–daughter; mother–son relationships and listening to one's elders.
Why did you write a Korean folktale––did your parents or grandparents tell you stories like that?
Are you Korean? Did you live in the countryside where there were lots of grasslands and wild animals?
What made you use a tiger as the evil character in the story? Did tigers live in your homeland?
It's cool the way you created your story to explain how daylight and moonlight came to Korea. What inspired you to write this por quoi tale?
When you drew your illustrations for
Sun Girl, Moon Boy
, did you draw your pictures based on what you experienced around you during your life?
Did you write this story to remember something that happened to you in your childhood?
Is your personality like any of the characters in the story? Were you disobedient when your mother told you to do something, like the children were in this story?
Did you act mostly like the boy character in your story, like you were bossy and in charge?
Did where you live influence the setting in your story––did you live near deep, dark woods so you wanted to tell a spooky story?
Do you practice traditional religion or are you a Christian? Did your religious belief influence the way you wrote this story? I ask because we learned that in Korean culture, many people believe that when you die, the one who passed away looks over you. So, did your religious belief influence the way you wrote this story?
It seems like the girl in the story was independent, and the boy stayed with his mother? Did your upbringing influence how you portrayed these characters in the story?
Yangsook loves peaches, but they are too expensive for her family to obtain, so she dreams of them often. A turbulent storm transpires, such that it appears hailstones are falling from the sky. The rains continue, and the farming community known for its peaches is affected by the storm. Yangsook and her family soon discover that peaches are falling, as a result of strong winds catapulting them from nearby peach orchards. After flood rains subside, Yangsook feasts on peaches. Suddenly and unselfishly, she becomes concerned that her community may be affected by the loss of this crop. Yangsook rallies to gather the remaining peaches and return them to the farmers. Her friends agree––they even use yarn to hang several back up on the trees.
Did you ever live in Puchon, South Korea? Did you draw your illustrations just how the city looked?
In the story, it seemed like people worked together so that everyone would be able to make a living. Was it like that in your hometown?
We notice "Yangsook" is the name of the main character in this story, and your name is Yangsook. Is this story based on your relationship with your Grandmother?
How did you come up with the name "Peach Heaven" for the title of your book? Are "peaches" an important part of Korean culture? How are they important?
Did you really experience peaches falling out of the sky, or did you use your imagination to create this part of the story?
When you wrote about the children tying peaches back onto the tree branches, did that really happen? How did you do that?
The Name Jar/Storyline:
Reluctant to introduce her Korean name for fear that she would be ridiculed by her new classmates when they heard it, Unhei refrains from sharing it for a long time. Instead of introducing herself, she announces that she will choose a name for herself on the following week of school. Curiosity aroused, her new classmates attempt to help her in this effort. They each jot a proposed name on individual strips of paper, fold them, and place them in an oversized, lidded glass container designated "the name jar." In a lottery type set–up established by her class, Unhei goes through each name and finds none that suits her. One day, the name jar mysteriously disappears. The mystery is solved, and a very special friend helps the immigrant newcomer realize that her birth name is the best name of all.
Did you have to learn how to speak English before you moved to the United States? Was the English language difficult for you to learn?
Sometimes, people who come from different countries and speak different languages sound different when they speak English: did you have an accent, and did anyone tease you about the way you spoke when you moved to America?
Unhei was so afraid to say her name in front of new students because she wanted to be accepted; did you go through a similar experience like the character in this story? If so, how did you feel about your experience?
Is this book based on something that really happened in your life, or did you know someone who went through what Unhei experienced and put yourself in that person's shoes?
Behind the Mask/Storyline:
It is Halloween eve, and the neighborhood children are preparing to go trick–or–treating. Kimin, a little boy and main character in this story, wants to make an impression among his friends when wearing his costume. He misses his grandfather who had passed away. Before he expired, his grandfather left Kimin a box filled with costumes, a special mask, and memorabilia regarding his experience as a famous traditional Korean mask dancer. His grandfather also taught Kimin a few traditional dance steps to execute when wearing the mask. Kimin decides he wants to dress up as his grandfather for Halloween; his friends laugh when they learn of Kimin's intent. Suddenly, Kimin recollects that one of his grandfather's masks possessed a frightening expression. The mask scared Kimin such that he never wanted to open the box in which the mask was contained. The youngster soon musters up courage and decides to wear his grandfather's costume. In an unexpected ending, Kimin comes to honor his grandfather while engaging friends in a memorable cultural exchange.
It seems like you create a lot of realistic fiction stories that include diverse groups of characters who learn about one another. What inspires to create stories like this?
Are masks an important part of Korean culture? How and why are they used (to scare people, to convey or hide feelings, for decoration)?
Did you have a grandfather that was a traditional mask dancer, and is that why you were inspired to write this story?
Do you have Korean masks in your possession? How and why do you use them?
Do you have traditional dance masks in your possession, and if so, did you use them as a model to create the mask illustrated in your story?
Did your grandfather teach you about masks, and did you come up with this story because he tried to scare you with them?
Did you ever experience trick–or–treating in the United States? Do children go trick–or–treating in South Korea?
Sun Girl, Moon Boy
, is this story also based on the Korean religious belief that people who die can come back to look after family who is still alive? Did you create this story for that reason?