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Today was pretty fabulous! I got to introduce Linda Sue Park at the Kerlan Award ceremony! When you read my speech (below), you’ll understand why I’d been waiting practically my whole life to do this 🙂

Today was Baby D’s first children’s literature event, and she handled it like a pro. Jeff brought her early enough so we could nurse before all the festivities began, and then she stayed awake and smiled through lunch as she met my students, colleagues, and friends. Linda Sue and Kate DiCamillo were very gracious and took a photo with Baby D and me, and she also got a photo with the wonderful John Coy, who chaired this year’s Kerlan Award committee.

I’m posting my speech here in case you’re interested. Linda Sue’s speech will be filed at the UMN Children’s Literature Research Collection so you can visit and read it there.

2014 March 29 Kerlan Award Linda Sue Park introductory remarks

By Sarah Park Dahlen

Hello. My name is Sarah Park Dahlen and it is my honor to introduce our 2014 Kerlan Award winner Linda Sue Park. You may be wondering, so I’ll just tell you now: we are not related 🙂 Actually, we might be, if we go back far enough.

In 2002, I was in graduate school and learned that a Korean American author had just for the first time ever won the Newbery Award, and it was for an historical fiction novel set in Korea. I was a history major; I studied Korean history; I loved children’s literature; I’m Korean American; and I really, really, really wanted a celadon vase. It was too perfect. I had grown up without ever seeing a Korean person in literature, so when I learned about and read A Single Shard, I was blown away. This novel was one of the reasons I decided to get my Ph.D. to study Korean American children’s books. Soon after, Linda Sue came to Los Angeles’ Pio Pico Koreatown’s Public Library, and I got to meet her. Since then, I have taken advantage of every opportunity, attending all her book signings and chasing her down at conferences. It paid off – a few years ago, she invited me to have breakfast.

Linda Sue is the author of at least twenty books for young people. Her historical fiction novel has garnered the most prestigious award, and her other books have also been highly commended by organizations such as the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Bank Street, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Linda Sue’s texts include various genres and address multiple audiences – she has written picture books, poetry, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and books in the 39 Clues series and short stories in Click and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Her stories celebrate Korean food and the beauty of Korean celadon in Bee-Bim-Bop and A Single Shard. They reveal the painful histories of the Korean War and Japanese colonialism in Keeping Score and When My Name was Keoko. She has introduced readers to “Lost Boys” and the wonderful Water for Sudan project in A Long Walk to Water and to the many different sounds made by animals from all over the world in Mung Mung: A Foldout Book of Animal Sounds. Just as Mung Mung shows both the differences and commonalities of animals from different parts of the world, Linda Sue loves how all her stories make connections. She emphasizes the connectivity and connective role of her work in bridging relationships between people and places and time periods. For example, her stories have brought all of us – readers of different ages and backgrounds and from different parts of the children’s literature universe – here in one place at the Kerlan today.

Here, to the Kerlan, Linda Sue is both generous and thorough. At one book signing she mentioned that she had 37 complete drafts of When My Name was Keoko on her computer. While I’m not sure all 37 made it into the Kerlan Collection, Linda Sue’s generosity to the Kerlan is remarkable. One of my favorite things to read in the Kerlan’s author files is the correspondence between author and editor because you learn so much about the author and how her work developed. Linda Sue’s correspondence begins with her very first rejection letter, and you can trace her confidence and feel her persistence as you read through her very polite and ever optimistic exchange with her editor. We are fortunate to have Linda Sue’s files here at the Kerlan because through her documents we can learn more about the development of her unique contribution to children’s literature.

Readers might be surprised to know that Linda Sue had to herself learn about Korean history before writing her stories. Having grown up in an immigrant family that emphasized English and Americanization, she started learning about Korean culture because she wanted to teach her children about their heritage. She was so intrigued that she started writing about it, and conducted meticulous research in preparation. Thanks to Linda Sue’s hard work and talent, one million Korean American children can see mirrors of their own lives and understand the history and culture of their parents and grandparents, while millions more have opportunities to learn about a culture and history other than their own. As a child, I may have never seen a Korean person in literature, but my daughter’s generation will see many reflections of our culture, thanks to writers such as Linda Sue Park, An Na, Paula Yoo, David Yoo, Derek Kirk Kim, and Marie Lee.

I’d like to end my introduction with a story: A few years ago I was at the HarperCollins breakfast at ALA, and across from me sat Kadir Nelson and 2 women. Of course I kept sneaking looks because there sat Kadir Nelson, and I was surprised that the ladies were whispering and looking back at me. At the end of the breakfast, the ladies came over and gushed about how much they loved my books. I was surprised and confused because the book I co-edited with Jamie Naidoo hadn’t come out yet. They kept showering me with compliments, and a few minutes into it one of the ladies looked down at my nametag and said, “Oh, Sarah Park. We thought you were Linda Sue Park!”

Friends, colleagues, and readers of all ages, please help me welcome our 2014 Kerlan Award winner, the real Linda Sue Park.

 

 

Funny that in the same week I found two websites that profiled and/or incorporated my comments into an article; actually, I didn’t find them myself. A friend saw my profile on iamkoreanamerican.com (they requested my participation so I submitted a profile, but was not notified that it was approved and posted!) and the St Kate PR folks found an article from Sept 23, 2009 that quoted me (from a questionnaire I filled out a couple months ago for the publisher, Lee & Low).

Paula Yoo’s Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story is an important contribution to children’s literature (not just Asian American children’s literature) because it debunks the simplistic notion that Anna May Wong was nothing more than an Asian fetish for the white American male. Paula writes about the anxiety and discomfort that Anna May Wong experienced as a minority actress in a majority white environment — an environment that continues to misrepresent and exploit the work and talents of Asian American performers. Asian women are often sexually exploited and Asian men are made effeminate and impotent; hardly desirable roles in mainstream media. Anyway, Anna May Wong may have started out in roles that were less than ideal, but as she progressed in her career she was able to be pickier about how she chose to represent the Asian diaspora.

The goal of the iamkoreanamerican.com project is to “compile a collection of profiles that showcase the diversity and many interesting personalities of the Korean American population. We hope that our collective efforts will provide a snapshot of the Korean American community at this point in our history.” It’s been really neat to read about so many different Korean Americans in different places, and also to think about how the intersection of our identities and experiences have all brought us to this website.

All that to say YAY for raising awareness about Asian American children’s books that raise awareness about important Asian Americans, and for projects that interrogate and showcase the complexity of the Korean diaspora!

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