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by Helen Recorvits

illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska


School Library Journal:

K-Gr 2– With subtle grace, this moving story depicts a Korean girl’s difficult adjustment to her new life in America. Yoon, or “Shining Wisdom,” decides that her name looks much happier written in Korean than in English (“I did not like YOON. Lines. Circles. Each standing alone”). Still, she struggles to please her parents by learning an unfamiliar language while surrounded by strangers. Although her teacher encourages her to practice writing “Yoon,” the child substitutes other words for her name, words that better express her inner fears and hopes. Calling herself “CAT,” she dreams of hiding in a corner and cuddling with her mother. As “BIRD,” she imagines herself flying back to Korea. Finally, she pretends she is “CUPCAKE,” an identity that would allow her to gain the acceptance of her classmates. In the end, she comes to accept both her English name and her new American self, recognizing that however it is written, she is still Yoon. Swiatkowska’s stunningly spare, almost surrealistic paintings enhance the story’s message. The minimally furnished rooms of Yoon’s home are contrasted with views of richly hued landscapes seen through open windows, creating a dreamlike quality that complements the girl’s playful imaginings of cats on the chalkboard, trees growing on walls, and a gleeful flying cupcake. At first glance, Yoon seems rather static, but her cherubic face reveals the range of her feelings, from sadness and confusion to playfulness, and finally pride. A powerful and inspiring picture book.–Teri Markson, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School, Los Angeles –Teri Markson (Reviewed May 1, 2003) (School Library Journal, vol 49, issue 5, p128)


  • ALA Notable Children’s Books: 2004
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice – Books for Youth – Young Readers Category: 2003
  • Ezra Jack Keats Awards: Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award
  • School Library Journal Best Books: 2003


1st Grade, 2nd Grade, Ages 0-8, Cultural Differences, Identity, Kindergarten