The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess X. Snow (9781984814869)

Dayeon and her Grandmother watch the sea in the morning from their house. Dayeon’s grandmother is a haenyeo, a woman who dives deep underwater to find abalone. Dayeon is scared of diving though. For breakfast, the two have abalone porridge and practice holding their breath. They both put on sunscreen and diving gear and head to the water. Dayeon plans only to pull treasures from the shore though. After her grandmother finds ten sea gifts, Dayeon agrees to try diving with her grandmother. They walk out into the water together, but during their first dive, Dayeon heads right back to the surface. On her second try though, she manages to hold her breath longer and notice the beauty of the sea around her. Soon though, the dolphins warn them of potential danger and they surface and get picked up by a boat. That’s when Dayeon gets her first sea gift.

Cho tells an engaging story that layers Korean tradition with the joy of grandmotherly love. The grandmother here is patient, allowing Dayeon to approach the challenges at her own pace, but also encouraging her to try again when she fails. Dayeon herself shows how an early scare can turn to triumph by facing your fears head on. These elements work particularly well when the challenge is something as large as diving for abalone in the deep sea.

Snow’s illustrations are full of light and steeped in color. The sky and sea are purples, oranges, blues on the page. In one amazing illustration, the characters walk to the sea through a field with mermaid shadows behind them.

A picture book about resilience, challenges and tradition. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

This graphic novel memoir tells a compelling story. Chuna lived with her single mother in Korea, until they went to Alabama on a what Chuna thought was a family vacation. Instead it was a way for her mother to actually meet the man she had been dating long distance and see where he lived. Now at age 14, Chuna must learn a new language and figure out a new society which is very unlike that of Korea. She doesn’t get along with her new stepfamily and continues to be furious with her mother. After all, she lost everything with the move: her country, her language, her friends, and a lot of her favorite things. When her mother enrolls her in a comic book program, Chuna discovers a way forward with new friends and a new way to express herself.

Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. The book is filled with tension, between Chuna and her mother, her mother and her new husband, and the entire extended family. Readers will see flashes of hope and a future before Chuna does in the book, adding to a feeling of possibility and resilience.

The art in the book reflects the strong plotting that Ha has created here. She lingers in moments very effectively, emphasizing their importance for readers. The art moves from tans and pastel colors to more dramatic moments where emotion is shown in waves of colors or hauntingly dark scenes that capture depression perfectly.

A great graphic novel memoir that tells the story of the isolation of being a new immigrant in America, but also the potential for a new future through art. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee (9780874869729)

The DMZ on the Korean Peninsula separates North and South Korea. It is a space of land where people are not allowed to cross and has become a wildlife sanctuary over the 65 years that it has stood. The DMZ stretches 154 miles from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. While there are no soldiers inside the DMZ, there are heavily armed soldiers on either side and miles of barbed wire fencing. In this picture book, the seasons turn in the DMZ and wildlife flourishes each of those seasons. Meanwhile, a grandfather makes the climb up to view the DMZ each season, looking at the land he once lived on. Against the pastoral backdrop of the nature in the DMZ are the movements of the troops on both sides, drilling and maneuvering.

Lee has created a picture book that embraces the complexities of the Korean Peninsula. He shows the impact the creation of the two nations has had on residents and the ongoing constant military presence in their lives. At the same time, Lee focuses too on the wildlife, animals, birds, fish and plants that are finding footing in the DMZ, some of them almost extinct elsewhere. It is a picture book that shows the hope of peace, the importance of space for native creatures and plants, and the impact of war.

The illustrations by Lee are beautiful. They capture the Korean landscape with the mountains in the background, the miles of barbed wire, and the lushness of the DMZ complete with rusting machinery. Turning from one page to the next, readers experience the beauty of nature and then the oppressiveness of the soldiers’ presence.

A complex and intelligent look at war and peace in our world. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Plough Publishing House.