ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Arcade Publishing, 141 5th Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Freelance writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ezra Jack Keats Award, 1999, for Dear Juno.
A Place to Grow, illustrated by Marcelino Truong, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Sumi's First Day of School Ever, illustrated by Joung Un Kim, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Soyung Pak draws on her heritage as a Korean American to produce children's books dealing with separation from loved ones, cultural displacement, and the other struggles of immigrant families. Dear Juno is the story of "a young boy who learns how he and his faraway grandmother can communicate fully and beautifully, even without words," Liz Rosenberg explained in the Boston Globe. Unable to read Korean, Juno usually waits for his parents to translate his grandmother's letters to him. But one day, he opens a letter and finds a red and yellow flower and a photograph of his grandmother holding a cat. With a child's clarity, he realizes that his grandmother is writing to tell him she has a new cat and has also started planting red and yellow flowers in her garden. Juno responds in kind, and soon he and his grandmother are communicating through pictures and objects that tell as much as the letters they used to exchange. In addition to showing the different ways of "reading," Rosenberg commented that Pak "pays homage to the power of art and to the subtleties of love, especially that between grandparent and grandchild, so often a wordless connection."
A Place to Grow centers on a different sort of conversation. When a young girl asks her immigrant father why he had to leave their native land and many relatives, he uses the metaphor of a seed as an answer. As he explains, sometimes a seed has to fly away to find a better soil and more wholesome conditions. "The father's belief in the good reasons to uproot—or more aptly, transplant—his family are as reassuring as the seasons and the weather," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. At the same time, as a Chicago Tribune reviewer explained, "Gardens of the heart unite the families, even when they're far apart."
In Sumi's First Day of School Ever Pak combines the age-old anxieties of leaving the nest for the first time with the special challenges of non-native speakers. When Sumi sets out for her first school day, the only English she knows is how to tell people her name. Everything seems overwhelming and confusing and even hostile as she enters this stressful new environment. "Pak's text is spare yet rich enough in tone and language to get across the alienation, fear and loneliness that the child initially faces," as Lisa Gangemi Kropp explained in the School Library Journal. But little by little, Sumi sees that teachers and other children can be kind and helpful as well. When a teacher gives the girl paper to draw on and hangs her drawing up for the other children to see, she starts to feel a little more confident. Finally, a classmate sits down next to her and helps her draw in the sand during recess, establishing Sumi's first bond with another student and proving that school may not be such a mean place after all. "It's a simple story, simply yet effectively told, of a turning point familiar to many children," concluded Joanna Rudge Long in Horn Book.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Dear Juno, p. 636; October 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of A Place to Grow, p. 410; August, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 1994.
Boston Globe, February 20, 2000, Liz Rosenberg, review of "A New Classic and Retelling an Old One," p. L3.
Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1999, review of Dear Juno, p. 4; September 29, 2002, review of A Place to Grow, p. 5.
Horn Book, January-February, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of A Place to Grow, p. 60; July-August, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 446.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of A Place to Grow, p. 1477; June 15, 2003, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 862.
Language Arts, November, 2000, Barbara Peterson, review of Dear Juno, p. 187; May, 2004, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 432.
Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1999, review of Dear Juno, p. 67; August 12, 2002, review of A Place to Grow, p. 300; June 28, 2003, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 93.
Reading Today, February/March, 2000, Lynne T. Burke, review of A Place to Grow, p. 37.
School Library Journal, November, 2002, Heide Piehler, review of A Place to Grow, p. 132; August, 2003, Lisa Gangemi Kropp, review of Sumi's First Day of School Ever, p. 43.
Scholastic Web site, http://www2.scholastic.com/ (February 10, 2005), "Soyung Pak."