Lots and lots of good news lately. First, we (and by we I mean me, my awesome graduate assistant, and a host of dedicated Asian Pacific American librarians) have been working super hard on the ALA Family Literacy Focus APALA children’s literature bibliography! It’s coming along pretty well, and I’m excited to see our final product.

Second, APALA has announced the winners of the 2010 APALA Literature Awards! The official announcement is posted at the ALA website. Congratulations to the winners! Tofu Quilt is my personal favorite 🙂 Yay for literacy!

And third, today I gave a presentation at my university’s first Scholars’ Circle, an event where faculty are invited to share their research projects. I was totally nervous because it was the first time I’ve shared my dissertation research with the larger faculty, but I got great feedback and made some good connections.

All in all, it’s been a great week. I love my job.

Dissertation Abstract

Representations of Transracial Korean Adoption in Children’s Literature 
by Sarah Park

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Library and Information Science in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.

Abstract: This dissertation examines and analyzes representations of transracial Korean adoption in American children’s literature published from 1955 to 2007.  Since the 1950s, more than 200,000 Korean children have been sent from South Korea to North America and Europe to be adopted into previously all-white families.  Over 110,000 were adopted into the United States.  Representations of transnationally and transracially adopted Koreans have appeared in over fifty American children’s books since 1955.  Early titles depicted orphaned Korean children in need of homes in order to promote the new phenomenon of transracial/transnational adoption.  More recent titles depict adopted Koreans’ experiences in the United States.

Based on my analyses of fifty-one children’s books, autobiographical writings by transracially adopted Koreans, and my observations during an international adoptee conference, it is clear that this literature does not holistically mirror the experiences of transracially adopted Koreans.  Most of the stories were written with the implicitly didactic purpose of describing and explaining adoption, often at the expense of engaging readers in an aesthetic reading experience.  Picture books uniquely tell stories through both text and illustrations or photographs, but there are often contradictions between text and image in depicting this experience.  In the more spacious format of the novel, authors idealize and validate adoptive mothers while de-maternalizing and invalidating the person of the birth mother.  Text and illustrations depict adopted Korean children as Other by the circumstances of when they are told about their adoption, the ways in which they are named, and their isolation from other adopted Koreans. My research provides a categorical framework for critically thinking about the types of adoption literature produced for children and gives insight into the characteristics and uses of ethnic and adoptive children’s literature.

Doctoral Committee:
Associate Professor Christine A. Jenkins, Chair
Professor Emerita Elizabeth G. Hearne, Director of Research
Associate Professor Moon-Kie Jung
Assistant Professor Eleana J. Kim, University of Rochester

Dissertation defense:
April 16 @ 3pm (LIS 131)


It’s been exactly one month since I moved from Los Angeles, California to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve completely settled into my apartment and office and sufficiently learned the freeways and roads. I know how to get to all my friends’ houses, Target, Whole Foods and multiple routes to get to work. I think I found a church – or maybe a church has found me. I’m learning how to drive in the snow and whether or not my North Face jacket is necessary when the temperature soars above zero. 

What I’m not yet used to: being here. I still can’t believe this is my life. When I introduce myself to people I almost say, “I’m a graduate student.” As it is, most people ask me what I’m studying and where I go to school. “Illinois, but I teach at St Kate. And what do you do?”

What I love: being here. Every time I came to Minnesota in the past, I experienced a resurgence of energy, inspiration, motivation and challenge to persist in my quest for truth and literary justice for adopted Koreans in the realm of children’s literature. Being on the ground and intimately immersed in this community motivates and sustains me in my work.

What I need: to be here.

Writing, writing, writhing

The above phrase is often my Facebook and iChat status, but I don’t really mean it. There are times when writing really is painful, but not because I dislike what I’m doing. I’ve heard horror stories of professors pressuring their graduate students to take on projects that are more for the professor than for the student. I’m so thankful my advisers are not like that at all. They’ve always supported my research interests, sometimes gently and sometimes firmly pushing me to think beyond what I see. 

No, it’s not that I dislike the research topic I’ve chosen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again: I love what I study. No, writing is difficult because I’m so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data I’ve collected (much of which literally fell into my lap) and the need to analyze every last word and illustration (which I’m often inclined to do). I’ve often turned to friends who have gone before, and many gave me advice such as:

“Don’t bother outlining. You won’t really know what the dissertation is going to look like until you start writing.”

“ATC – Ass To Chair. Who cares if you’re thirsty; keep your ass to that chair and keep writing.”

“Just vomit onto the paper. Don’t bother with complete sentences… in fact, if you look up my dissertation online, you’ll find a ton of typos and sentence fragments.”

“You should be reading 8 hours a day and writing 1 hour a day.”

“You should write at least 500 words per day.”

“Most dissertators have a year where they’re sort of ‘lost’ and trying to figure out their dissertations. You’re doing fine.”

“You need to rest one full day at least once a week to behave like a normal human being, spend time with family/friends, recover and get back at it.”  

“Yes, the dissertation you write is going to be incredibly different from your prospectus/proposal. It’s completely normal. Stop hyperventilating.”

“Your advisers will understand.”

“You will finish.”

So the “writhing” part of it comes in in two places: 1. I’m at least a month behind my target finish date (which is completely normal, although unexpected and out of my control); and 2. Even if I have a complete thought in my head, I have a hard time getting it out on paper. I’m usually a decent writer, despite the all-over-the-place nature of this blog as well as my recent spells of writer’s block. But I do love to write; I journal about me and Tim, I jot down notes re: research as they slip into my head, I chat with friends, and I write emails and facebook statuses. But I realized that loving to write is not enough, especially if the machine you write on is a clunky, 4-year old Dell that freezes if you try to run Word, Firefox and iTunes all at once. I writhed with pain on a daily basis. And that, my friends, takes the fun out of writing.

But a couple weeks ago my dad graciously bought me a new laptop: a beautiful, and I mean BEAUTIFUL Macbook Pro. Every morning I wake up and eagerly reach for my new machine. It seriously makes me want to write, and I seriously believe that it’s helping me to write more joyfully. This machine is designed to make you want to work, and to work well. Everything is so carefully designed, efficient and intuitive. It just makes sense. And that’s how I want to be about writing my dissertation: careful, aesthetic, efficient, sensitive. I want it to reflect my precision in research; my ability to write aesthetically; my ability to make my topic accessible; and my heart for my topic and audience.

I probably didn’t write more in the past 2 weeks than I did in the 2 weeks or 2 months before that, but I do believe that I’ve been happier writing in the past 2 weeks that I ever have been in the past. Part of it may be due to the fact that as I get on with it, I’m more and more motivated in seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as far off as it may still be. But the other part of it is using this Macbook Pro. Seriously. It’s just a machine, but it is quite a machine.

My conclusion: any graduate student who advances to candidacy, especially one who is writing a humanities/social sciences dissertation, should be rewarded with a new Macbook Pro 🙂