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Multicultural Literature
The Name Jar
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Yangsook Choi: Biography
Yangsook Choi: Bibliography
Yangsook Choi: Book Analysis
The Thief Lord
This Same Sky
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
The Eleventh Hour: Curious Mystery
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
M.C. Higgins, the Great
Goin' Someplace Special
Locomotion
Too Many Tamales
Pablo Remembers
My Name is Maria Isabel
Pablo's Tree
The Great Ball Game
Buffalo Woman
Morning Girl
The Mud Pony: A Traditional Skidi Pawnee Tale
Jingle Dancer
The Name Jar
Tree of Cranes
Good Luck Gold: And Other Poems
The Magic Paintbrush
Habibi
Ella Enchanted
Silent Lotus
Real Heroes

Choi, Yangsook.  2001.  The name jar.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
     ISBN: 0375906134.

 

Unhei (pronounced Yoon-Hey) is leaving all that she knows in Korea to move to the United States.  Before she leaves, her grandmother gives her a red satin pouch with her “name inside”.  On the school bus, the kids ask her what her name is and as kids sometimes do, they make fun of the pronunciation. 

When asked in class what her name is, Unhei tells the teacher that she hasn’t “picked one yet”.  She is very worried about fitting in.  Her mother tells her that a “name master” had chosen her name in Korea.  Mr. Kim, the Korean grocer, explains that her name means “grace” in Korean.

The next day a glass jar appears on her desk with name suggestions from her fellow students.  When asked if she has chosen a name, she demonstrates the “name stamp” (a small carved wooden block), her grandmother gave her, and explains that in Korea it can be used as her signature.  Being the new kid in class is never easy and so much more difficult when everything about you is different.  Her mother and grandmother remind Unhei to be proud of her Korean heritage.   She weighs input from family and friends and as the story progresses, comes to appreciate her Korean background keeping her name.  Her supportive classmates learn about Korean culture as well.

The bold, gold and earth tone illustrations add realism to the story.  As Unhei walks to market in her new neighborhood, she passes an international array of stores including Tony’s Pizza, Fadil’s Falafel, and Dot’s Deli.  The Korean market, Unhei’s favorite Korean dishes including kimchi (cabbage), and the renderings of Korean people look authentic.  Choi is careful to dress Unhei in typical American dress, but her Korean grandmother is wearing a simple hanbok which reflects the traditional Korean dress (Korea).  The reader glimpses a Korean calendar and a letter written in Korean prominently displayed in Unhei’s house.  The name stamp is an interesting custom and a focal point on one page.  The endpapers portray many of the names suggested by her classmates interspersed with name stamp designs.

Interestingly, Choi, who is Korean, came to this country as an adult and explained this story did not mirror her personal experiences but that of a friend from China.  She explained that each syllable in Korean names has meaning.  In her case, “Yang” means sweet and nice, “sook” means clear and pure, and “Choi” means high (Lindal, Sheila 2003).

Korea Overseas Information Service Republic of Korea.  2004.  About Korea. 
     Available from http://www.koreaaward.com/korea/image01.htm.   Accesses 21 July
     04.
 
Lindal, Sheila J.  2003.  Interview: Q&A with Yangsook Choi.  Available from
     http://www.fallinlove.com/thenamejar.html.  Accessed 22 June 04.