One of my summer writing projects has turned out to be more fun than I expected. I decided to write my own literary guide for Linda Sue Park's novel When My Name was Keoko.
This beautiful and moving book about the years of Japanese rule in Korea was published in 2002, the same year Park won the Newbery for A Single Shard. Since S. is doing a modern history semester in the fall, I decided to pull on novels from the 20th and 21st century for her to read and analyze as part of her 9th grade English studies. (She's reading Orwell's Animal Farm first; I pulled a study guide together for that too, but I mostly just leaned on the huge amount of resources already out there and rearranged and tweaked them to make it work for us.)
When My Name Was Keoko gets recommended a lot, and it seems to get a good bit of use in middle school and high school classes. But perhaps because of its relative youth, when I went looking, none of the literary guides out there (and there aren't many) pleased me. The free ones didn't have deep enough content, and the few things I could find that weren't free didn't look helpful enough for me to invest money. So I decided to invest some time instead and write up a guide for us to use.
It's been a real joy to read through Park's novel again and to pull together questions (both comprehension questions and more reflective, analytical ones) about the story. I'm finding good resources online that deal with the historic context, but we're mostly looking at this book as literature -- so I'm writing questions for thought and discussion about the structure of the story and the elements that go into making it so well written. We'll discuss point of view, literary symbolism, metaphor, how writers create tension and suspense, and more.
Park is such a solid writer that her work lends itself to discussing important themes. I especially enjoy the way she looks at tensions between the importance of family honor and traditional culture and being true and authentic to yourself and your passions. What it means to maintain cultural values in the face of opposition and oppression, and how one can be quietly and creatively subversive in the face of that kind of oppression are other elements I'm enjoying thinking about and looking forward to discussing with S. in the fall. She's read almost everything Linda Sue Park has ever written, but she's not read this one yet and I'm looking forward to seeing what she makes of it, especially now that she's old enough to be thinking and asking some good questions about her own culture and its values.