Yesterday I spent a few hours browsing through the ALA exhibition hall. Anyone who’s gone to ALA knows how deadly this is – you walk in with an empty bag and full wallet and walk out with a full bag and empty wallet. Thank God for free books and posters, though. And the beautiful Hyperion bag 🙂 Thanks for signing my books, Mo Willems (I still think you should have won the Caldecott Medal for Knuffle Bunny!) Linda Sue Park, and Francisco X. Alarcon!

As I walked through the children’s book publishers, I did notice something else, not quite as lethal as spending lots of money, but just as devastating. Out of the new Korean American children’s picture books, some have female characters with rice bowl haircuts. Back in the day it was a huge trend here in the US, as well as for Korean parents to cut their kids’ hair in the shape of an upside-down bowl. My brother and I went through that phase as well. I get it. 

But it’s 2007, not 1980. And this is the US, not Korea. (side note: I’ve seen white kids with bowl haircuts, but I’ve never heard the term “rice bowl” used to describe them. But for some reason we call this haircut on Asian people “rice bowl haircut.” Ahem. Would you like some Orientalismwith your rice?)

The new Yoon story (she has this hairstyle in the first 2 books as well), called Yoon and the Jade Bracelet, and a new picture book called Something for School (translated from Korea and otherwise nicely illustrated) both portray very young girls with these hairstyles. They remind of a picture book called Chinese Eyes (1974) in which some kids bully an adopted Korean because she has “Chinese eyes.” Her mother tells her that kids in China have eyes similar to hers, and the accompanying illustrations portray decapitated children’s heads, all with chinky “Chinese” eyes and rice bowl hair cuts, against a large map of China. First of all, it’s really problematic to suggest that Korean and Chinese kids look the same, and second, does that make it okay to call her Chinese Eyes? And okay, so this was 1974, sort of in the middle of the multiculturalism movement. But if we decided back then that Orientalism wasn’t cool (thank you, Edward Said) why are we reproducing this imagery in 2007?