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N is for North Korea: A children book of a different culture

N is for North Korea - Multicultural children book cover

A children book of a different culture

N is for North Korea is a children book written by Trevor Eissler and illustrated by Mathew J. Baek. The book tells the story of Na-young: a young girl from North Korea with two pet grasshoppers, a pretty yellow dress and a cousin in South Korea. The story relates her adventure as she tries to contact her cousin by sending her a letter and a gift through a red balloon. I found this book very touching. In a multicultural society, the book comes forth with a very important and sweet lesson on diversity.

The best part of the story is the one left unsaid. Eissler has managed to weave the geopolitical situation of North Korea very subtly in the story. He has very innocently approached the concept of war and the divide between nations and families. Children, especially toddlers, like to ask 101 questions while you tell them a story. And I can totally imagine my son asking me about why Na-Young cannot visit her cousin, why the soldiers do not let her go and so on and so forth. I also know that I don’t have to explain the entire history but I would bring it down to his level. Every parent who wants to teach their child about war and politics would love this story. I did.

And it does not hurt that Na-young is a very relatable girl. Every child can relate with her. Na-young wants to be friend with her cousin living in South Korea but her father tells her she can’t. Children, in their innocence, will make friends with almost anyone. For them, there is no such thing as a different race, region, or colour. They may notice the differences but it only excites them rather than pushing them away. In this way, this story teaches adults an important lesson too. As a mother, I know there are so many things that my son has taught me and if we open ourselves to it, we can learn a lot from children around us.

This children book also offers a way of connection: the red balloon. For a young child, the book is about a red balloon. Every child, whether he or she lives in a village in North Korea or a high-rise apartment in Manhattan, is fascinated with a balloon. It is a universal toy. There are so many times my son has squealed with delight at the sight of a balloon. In fact, the red balloon was my son’s focal point of interest when I read him the story. And it is not just preschoolers who would enjoy the book. A 10-year-old or a child learning to read on his own will also enjoy the book with its simple sentences and repetition. The literal story is easy to comprehend.

A lesson to learn

There is a very hopeful quality to the story. An adult mind would just say that it is not possible for the red balloon to reach the cousin. But with Na-young’s active imagination, nothing is impossible. And here is another take-home lesson- just try. Don’t close your mind to something. In this way, Na-young will be a good example for our children, especially an older child who may be letting go of her active imagination.

I also felt that the illustrations were also very thoughtful. The simple line illustrations bring out the simplicity of the eastern culture. We see Na-young sleeping on the floor. For a child in the sub-urban of London, the sight is something he never saw. And this could be a very gentle way of teaching our child diversity in any multicultural society.

When thinking of a book we mostly stick to those from our own culture. By doing so, we are forgetting the most important reason to read: to open ourselves to the perspective of others. It would be a good idea to include stories from around the world in your child’s library at an early age. N is for North Korea offers an excellent starting point because the young girl is very relatable with her red balloon and her active imagination.

Do you know any other children book about a particular country?

Author: Trevor Eissler
Illustrator: Mathew J. Baek
Publisher: Sevenoff LLC
Publication Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9822833-2-5