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When My Name Was Keoko Paperback – January 13, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Inspired by her own family's stories of living in South Korea during the Japanese occupation in the years preceding World War II, Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park chronicles the compelling story of two siblings, 10-year-old Sun-hee and 13-year-old Tae-yul, and their battle to maintain their identity and dignity during one of Korea's most difficult and turbulent times. In alternating first-person chapters, they relate their family's troubles under the strict fascist regime. The Kim family is stripped of their cultural symbols, only permitted to learn Japanese history and language, and forced to convert their names to Japanese. Sun-hee, now Keoko, struggles to reconcile her Korean home life with her Japanese school and friends, while Tae-yul, now Nobuo, attempts to convert his growing anger into a more positive passion for flight and airplanes. Both are worried for their uncle, whom they discover is printing an underground Korean resistance paper. When Sun-hee inadvertently puts her uncle's life in danger, she sets in motion a chain of events that results in her brother volunteering as a pilot for the Japanese near the end of WWII. While Sun-hee and her parents wait in breathless uncertainty to hear from Tae-yul, the war rushes to a close, leaving Korea's destiny hanging in the balance. This well-researched historical novel is accompanied by a thoughtful author's note that explains what happened to Korea and families like the Kims after WWII and a bibliography to entice interested young readers into learning more about a topic largely unknown to American audiences. (Ages 10 to 14) --Jennifer Hubert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A brother and sister alternate as narrators in Newbery Medalist Park's (A Single Shard) well-constructed novel, which takes place from 1940-1945 in Japanese-occupied Korea. The Japanese government forbids the Korean language to be spoken and the country's flag to be flown, and even forces Korean families like Tae-yul and Sun-hee's to change their names (Sun-hee becomes Keoko). Through the use of the shifting narrators, Park subtly points up the differences between male and female roles in Korean society; and the father's process of choosing the family's Japanese name speaks volumes about his strength and intelligence. As the war intensifies, each family member asserts his or her individuality, from Sun-hee, who continues to keep a journal after a soldier calls it "a crime against our Divine Emperor," to her uncle, who prints a revolutionary newspaper in hiding, to Tae-yul, who joins the Japanese army to avoid helping the military police capture his uncle only to be chosen as a kamikaze pilot. The son comes to an understanding of his father rather abruptly at the novel's close, and some readers may wonder why Tae-yul was not labeled a chin-il-pa ("lover of Japan" ). But, in the end, telling details provide a clear picture of Sun-hee and Tae-yul and their world. Readers will come away with an appreciation of this period of history and likely a greater interest in learning more about it. Ages 10-14.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling (January 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780440419440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440419440
  • ASIN: 0440419441
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Yoomi VINE VOICE on October 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I was younger, my mom told me her older sister was a girl during the time when Japan occupied Korea. I never gave it much thought until I read this book. My aunt also had to change her name and learn Japanese in school. As a Korean-American who was born and raised in the US, I can't even begin to imagine the hardships they had to endure.

The story is simply written but may be a little difficult to follow for younger readers because of the flip-flop narration between the brother and sister. But it is a beautiful story. What I loved most was that while the story is from the point of view of 2 Korean children, the author did not villanize the Japanese. In a world that is consumed by hate, it is refreshing to read a story that is about family, friends, and hope, instead of hate and revenge.

I love this book so much I have bought a copy for my school library.
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Format: Paperback
I am a middle school Language Arts teacher from Florida where WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO is among the 15 books selected as Sunshine State Young Readers recommended books for the 2005-2006 school year. Having read all 15 books this summer, a few stood out as being worth a 5 star rating; WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO is one of those books and, in my humble opinion, the best of the all.

Were I to be asked to teach character using a young adult (YA) novel, I would certainly choose this book from this list (which also includes the excellent YA titles: GRANNY TORELLI MAKES SOUP, SAHARA SPECIAL, THE UNSEEN and AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS -- I would also highly recommend the superb SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson). The beauty of this historical fiction is that it seems so real a story because it seems to treat its characters with such enormous respect and clarity of voice. I was particularly impressed as it told a story of a time in history that I am not familiar with (and yet I felt I should have been). Perhaps that revelation makes me more enraptured of the story within. I felt honored to be allowed to see such an intimate portrait of two characters who (by their society's standards) would be more naturally private in their thoughts.

I cannot recommend this book more.

[I will not reveal any more of the story than other commentators already have as I feel that the joy of the reading is in discovering what comes next.]
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Format: Paperback
In 1940, by Japanese decree, Kim Sun-hee became known as Kaneyama Keoko. It was more than just the "Japanization" of her Korean name by changing the pronunciation. It was an attempt to wipe out her identity as a Korean, by forcing her to have a new Japanese name written with different kanji (Chinese characters).

Linda Sue Park's When My Name Was Keoko tells the historical fiction tale of the Kim family from 1940 to 1945 during the final years of Korea's occupation by Japan. Told in the fist person and alternating between 10-year-old daughter, Sun-hee, and 13-year-old son, Tae-yul, the tale portrays the rigid roles family members play in traditional Korean culture based on sex and birth order. Park uses the Korean terms of address such as Hynungnim (older brother used by younger brother) and Opah (older brother used by younger sister) throughout the story to help readers feel the "rank, respect, and affection" in a Korean family.

A major theme in When My Name Was Keoko is identity. What makes a person who they are? The characters delve into what makes them Korean. Like many imperial powers, the Japanese tried to wipe out the Korean culture without offering the people equality in return. In school, the children heard only of the perfect Emperor and superior Japan. The Japanese passed laws that repeatedly and cumulatively took away parts of the Korean people's identity. The Japanese controlled the education system and taught classes in that language. People were forbidden to speak Korean outside the home. The Japanese forced Koreans to register themselves with new Japanese names. The laws that the Japanese imposed on the Korean people and the taxes extracted grew steadily harsher.
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I have bought and read a number lf Linda Sue Parker books and passed them on to my granddaughter. A Long Walk to Water, AMAZING, REALLY AMAZING READ !. I bought 6 copies and gave them to all my grandchildren and they all learned and loved THE WALK TO WATER. This book looked interesting so I bought a copy for my speed reading granddaughter...Her mother was born in Japan and I just cannot give her this book. Her mom (my daughter in law) is a Canadian Citizen now and proud of it. She is not proud of the happenings of Japan in many ways long before my daughter in law was born. I just think this could be too much for a young impressionable reader with any kind of mixed parentage or background. Simple warning. I love Linda's writing, but this one was better for older readers....
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I'd recommend this for somewhat older readers than most of Linda Sue Park's other juvenile novels. The Japanese are enemies of Korea in WWII, overlords and polite pillagers of the people, and the interactions of an intimate yet traditional Korean family with the Japanese soldiers and civilians can fuel anger and resentment toward "Japan," even these many years later. On the other hand, it did an excellent job of showing me why some of my Korean students have background animosity towards some of my Japanese students. I read six of Linda Sue Park's YA novels this summer. They were excellent stories and taught me much. I appreciated When My Mame Was Keoko as among my favorites.
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