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).