I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, translated by Deborah Smith (9781950354658)
Told from the point of view of the Seoul subway itself, this picture book takes readers deep into the city and introduces them to the various people who use the subway. With a steady ba-dum ba-dum, the subway rattles and rumbles over its tracks reaching stop after stop. At each stop a different character enters the story, from the business man running to make his train to a mother with two children who is also late to a man who repairs shoes for a living to a student so tired she is almost falling asleep. Each person offers their story, glimpses of their past and plans. As the train car fills up, the light shines in showing the beauty of each person and their journey.
This Korean import is beautifully written with a dazzling combination of simple prose that moves to a poem for each of the people entering the train. The poems are set apart from the prose, offering a full story of that person in just a few lines. The bustling urban setting is brought to a personal level as each human is highlighted and given space to shine. There is space here for transformation in each person’s life, the subway used as a huge metaphor for life and growth.
The illustrations are done in ink and watercolor. The humans are shown as more faceless at first but as they are introduced to the reader, they are shown in brighter colors in the crowd rather than the gray people around them. Each person’s story and poem are shown with the bright colors from the bluest of sea water to the bustle of the city itself.
A gorgeous celebration of Seoul and its people. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Shiori is the only princess of Kiata, a land where magic is forbidden. She lives in the palace with her six older brothers, her father the emperor and his consort, her stepmother. None of them know that Shiori has magic of her own, but her stepmother, who is also a sorceress, discovers it. Shiori meets a dragon in the waters when she almost drowns, soon becoming friends and learning more about her magical powers with his help. But when Shiori followers her stepmother into her snake-filled garden, her stepmother banishes her and her brothers. Shiori is cursed with having to wear a bowl on her head that covers most of her features and being unable to utter a sound without killing one of her brothers. Her six brothers are turned into cranes by day and human by night. Shiori must find a way to reunite with her brothers and break the curse before her stepmother takes over the empire. But things may not be as simple as Shiori first thinks, and certainly meeting her betrothed while unable to speak was never in her plans.
An impossible book to summarize in any way that conveys it fully, this novel is a wonderful interwoven net of The Wild Swans and other folk tales. The world building here is so masterful where the magic makes sense, the curses bind and force the story forward, and there are layers of the empire, magical and human to explore. The setting of Kiata offers extensive forests, an icy northern castle, long stretches of sea, and mountains of magic and demons.
Against that setting, Lim offers readers characters who change and grow as the novel progresses. The most changed is Shiori, who steadily learns about herself and her betrothed, thinking deeply about who she once was and who she has become due her stepmother’s curse. The romance is slow and steadily builds in a way that is organic and lovely. Readers will love the secondary characters too. Plus the villains themselves are complicated and add to the twists and turns of the novel.
A great fantasy full of magic and curses. Appropriate for ages 13-17.