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.
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
April 16 @ 3pm (LIS 131)