This is a famous children’s book that has only been published in English somewhat recently. It was written in 1938 by author Tae-Jun Lee who wrote many famous stories and was well loved in Korea. In this edition the illustrations are by Dong-Sung Kim and they are painted on traditional Korean paper (han-ji) and use traditional Chinese ink line techniques (muck-sun).
I saw this book in an Australian book store and noticed the Korean names on it. It was only after I bought it and did some research that I realised how special this book is.
It is a simple but heart-wrenching story of a young boy waiting for his mother at a tram stop. The first time I read it I thought there was no conclusion or indication of whether the little boy’s mother returns or not. I actually cried. I realised later that the ending is shown on the very last illustration but you have to look carefully.
Though simply written, the story is incredibly moving – particularly when you know Korea’s history and that this was written during the Japanese occupation – and it really stuck in my mind for days. The illustrations are beautiful. Some are quite simple but they convey so much. And the little boy is so adorable but looks so small and insignificant. What is even more poignant is that the author Tang-Jun Lee was actually an orphan himself. He was a war correspondent during The Korean War but settled in North Korea afterwards and disappeared in 1956…
I have seen some comments online by parent’s that think the book is too sad and they wouldn’t read it to their children but I disagree. It is such a beautiful and moving book that I will be reading it to my future children- in both English and Korean.