Allison's Book Bag

Author Linda Sue Park

Posted on: April 4, 2012

Linda Sue Park at the 2007 Texas Book Festival...

Linda Sue Park at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the authors I’m featuring this month, Linda Sue Park is the one whom I’ve most heard of. Daughter of Korean immigrants, Park was born in Urbana, Illinois. My husband and I used to visit that region annually when dating to attend Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival. We’re also familiar with Chicago, the area near where she grew up. My husband attended a technical institute in Chicago for his post-secondary studies.

Determined that their children should succeed in America, Park’s parents allowed only English to be spoken at home. Consequently, although Park grew up celebrating a few Korean traditions and holidays, she felt completely American. She knew little of her parents’ background. Even when she visited Korea at about age eleven, it didn’t initially make much of an impression on her. This is similar to the experience of my step-siblings, who know little of their mom’s home country of the Philippines.

One way that Park was introduced to American culture was through books. Beginning when she was very young, her father took her to the library every two weeks. Because of those visits, Park became what she calls a “maniacal reader”. She also describes herself as a re-reader, someone who comes back to old favorites again and again. In all three ways, we share similarities. During my childhood, despite books at home, my dad and I frequented the library. Reading remains my favorite activity. And, much to the confusion of some of my acquaintances, I love to reread favorites.

Reading was not Park’s only passion; she also loved to write. Even before kindergarten, she began to scribble poems and stories. When she was just nine years old she had a haiku published in a magazine called Trailblazer. Park was paid one dollar for her poem, which she gave to  her father as a Christmas present. He framed the check, which still hangs over his office  desk. My first poem was also a haiku, but it didn’t win any money.

After graduating from Stanford University with an English degree, Park took a job as a public-relations writer for a major oil company. Two years later, in 1983, Park moved to Dublin where she moved to be near an Irishman who became her husband. Me, I moved to be near a Midwesterner who became my husband.

After she married, Park had a baby, taught English as a second language to college students, worked as a food journalist, and had another baby. Oh, and in 1990, the family moved to the United States for her husband’s job. It was a busy time!

Even though most of her jobs required some kind of writing, it wasn’t until the mid ’90s that Park decided to write children’s books. She began by dabbling with short stories. A turning point took place when Park started to research into Korean history. She was partly motivated to explore her roots, because she wanted to make sure her children would have a chance to connect with both their Irish and Korean grandparents. It was also a personal journey. Besides dipping into her own memories, Park interviewed family members. Park was particularly inspired by a collection of Korean folktales that she had read as a child, called Tales of a Korean Grandmother by Frances Carpenter.

While Park began writing short stories based on these Korean folk-tales, an original  story was taking shape in her head too. She didn’t know whether it was meant to be a  picture book, a short story, or something much longer. Several thousand words later  it became evident that she was producing a novel-length book for children. That book  would eventually become her first published work of fiction: Seesaw Girl.

In 2002, Park won the 2002 Newbery Medal for her book A Single Shard, which follows the adventures of a twelfth-century orphan named
Tree-ear. Park became the first Korean American to take home the honor. Since then, Park has published several other novels.

Generally, Park writes between two and four hours a day from her current Rochester, New York home that she shares with her husband and two children. After Park finishes a novel, she feels burned out and revitalizes herself with poetry. Until lately most of her poems, other than that first haiku published in Trailblazer Magazine in 1969 at the age of nine, had been unpublished. However, an editor asked if any of her poems could become picture books. Now Park has five picture books under contract.

To wrap-up my biography of Linda Sue Park, I’ll conclude with a quote. As part of an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Park was asked: “Why is it important for American children to read stories set abroad?”

Park replied:

“In the last couple of generations, our world has gotten dramatically smaller, and the popularity of the Web has accelerated that process. A kid can now ‘chat’ with someone halfway around the world as easily as with the kid next door!

“So paradoxically, their worlds are getting bigger at the same time: They need to learn  more about the world, about other places, their cultures and traditions. To me, this is the most wonderful part about writing stories set in diverse locales and times: the opportunity to explore how people are different — and more importantly, how we are alike.

“If young readers can find common ground with a character from 12th century Korea, perhaps they will find it easier to come to a better understanding of those around them.”

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