One of our favorite ways to learn about Korean culture is through literature. The latest book that we've been exploring is The Korean Cinderella, written by Shirley Climo and illustrated by Ruth Heller. This book captures so many wonderful aspects of Korean culture, while introducing an interesting version of the Cinderella story that we've all grown to love. I was so excited to share it with you, especially since the Korean Autumn Festival, Chuseok, is just around the corner.
As the story begins, you are introduced to Pear Blossom, the Korean Cinderella, and her family who are thrilled for her arrival. However, shortly after Pear Blossom is born, she losses her mother suddenly, which forces her father to search for someone to help take care of her - a new Omoni (mother). Once their new family is joined, Pear Blossom quickly finds out that her stepmother and stepsister, Peony, are worse then she could have ever imagined. As they continue to pile work on her, hoping to find fault and be rid of Pear Blossom, she is visited by three tokgabi, or goblins, that help her each time she is in need. Against all odds, she makes it to the village festival and the story unfolds in a very similar fashion to the version that we all know and love.
This story had so many wonderful inclusions of Korean culture sprinkled throughout the pages. We did read it over the course of a day since it was rather long and your attention span as a two-year old can sometimes waiver. As we read through the story, you were quite taken by the colorful illustrations and the three tokgabi, which were in the form of a frog, sparrows, and an ox. We discussed many of the drawings and found objects that you could point out and identify. Since we borrowed this book from the library, I plan on buying it soon because, as you get older, there are parts of the story that you can learn from and appreciate as part of your culture. (It would be perfect for elementary school aged children!)
After we finished reading the story, I decided to put together a discovery basket and rice sensory tray that represented parts of the story, as well as items that touched on Korean culture in general. The discovery basket included:
Chopsticks ~ a duck ~ fruit ~ a book written in Korean and English ~ two postcards from Korea
Throughout the whole story, you can find splashes of color brightening up the pages. The four colors that are repeated on each page are the colors found in your rice sensory tray. I dyed the colors the night before and had it ready for you after story time. Three of those colors (red, blue, and yellow) are found on the Taegeuk, a variation of the symbol on a Korean flag. The yellow symbolizes humanity, the red is for heaven, and blue for Earth. As soon as I set it down, you dove right into mixing them all up! We also practiced picking up rice with chopsticks, which proved to be a challenge for you. We finally ended up scooping the rice with tea cups and having a pretend tea party during play.
After we had our fill of rice, we moved on to the discovery basket. We played with the duck, which was similar to the two featured at the end of the story. Hand carved ducks are given as a gift to the bride and groom and represent the couple's relationship depending on how they are placed in the house. We also took a bit of time to color our own Taegeuk symbol, which I mentioned above.
Finally, we revisited a book that was purchased during our trip to Korea. Inside are both English and Korean words for various fruits and vegetables. In the story, Pear Blossom is gifted a basket of fruits from the tokgabi to feast on during the festival. As we looked at the pictures, you found the fruits from the basket that matched each illustration.
Of course after all of that cultural discovery, we had to partake in a Korean treat and a bit of silliness. You loved your Pepero and your hanbok hat made your smile! (Hanboks are also worn during the wedding ceremony at the end of the tale.) We had such fun with this story and hope to continue celebrating over this weekend's Chuseok festival!
To read reviews for several more versions of the Cinderella classic, visit KidWorldCitizen's collaborative post entitled Cinderella Stories Around the World!