'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Review: Where's Halmoni?

Wow this book is different! The front cover's style hints at an influence of traditional Asian woodblock art. The cover made me stop, wanting to find out what kind of story was inside.

Instantly the cartoon strip storytelling technique, of a graphic novel come picture book, drew me into the story. Where's Halmoni? is told by Julie Kim who has combined adventure and mystery with traditional Korean folktales from her childhood.

Who is Halmoni? Even without an English translation of Korean, readers learn from the end-papers and the first illustrated page that Halmoni is a Grandmother.


When Halmoni's grandchildren arrive to visit her, she and her red bean soup are no where to be found. Instead the two children find lots of animal tracks - probably tiger tracks - and a new pair of traditional Korean doors.

Joon barrels ahead of his sister, Noona, though the door way into another world. Readers will notice that the landscape in this new world echoes the traditional woodblock style picture on Halmoni's wall. The children's adventure begins as they follow the tracks that will hopefully lead to Halmoni.

The first folktale character the children meet is the clever Moon Rabbit. This is an adorable character with  facial expressions and gestures like an anime cartoon character.  The children's kindness towards the Moon Rabbit is rewarded with a present of a backscratching stick. Noona observes that the stick seems to be unusual because it makes the person being scratched laugh uproariously. 

Later the children meet the mischievous Dokkebi, Korean goblins. The children use food to quell the hungry goblins and by befriending the goblins - whose faces are like the masks on Halmoni's wall - the children receive a door handle that can open doors to other places.

Upon entering this new doorway the children encounter the Tiger in a tug of war with Gumiho - a nine tailed fox - over Halmoni's soup. Without fear, Joon jumps down the hill into the fray, biting the tiger's tail. Noona yells 'STOP! Let's do this FAIRLY.'  The children and animals resolve the conflict by playing Ga-wi, Ba-wi, Bo (Scissors, Rock, Paper). Who will win the game and the soup? Will the children find Halmoni and their way home?

Kim's story telling through facial expressions and gestures add details to the story told through speech bubbles. She has used both Korean and English writing when the children interact with the folktale inspired characters. Sometimes the English translation is next to the Korean words and other times readers can refer to the back of the book for a translation.

Kim moved from Korea to the United States with her family when she was a child. The Korean '...folktales followed us to our new home...,' Kim said. She has included information about the four folktale characters for readers interested in knowing more about Korean culture.

Title: Where's Halmoni?
Author/Illustrator: Julie Kim
Publisher: Sasquatch Books, $29.99
Publication Date: 2 January 2018
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781632170774
For ages: 4 - 9
Type: Picture Books


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