Picture Book Spotlight: The Name Jar

I should probably start this post by saying that this book is a certain gem. What a wonderful concept Yangsook Choi has weaved into the fantastic vehicle of a children’s book! This book opens with a young girl making a long journey that will change her life. Unhei comes from Korea to America, and to a new school. Before she gets to her new school, kids on her bus begin to tease her about her name. How will she possibly get through the first day of school?

Choi weaves a compassionate and thoughtful cast of characters in this book. The Korean tradition is briefly touched upon, and a young child’s love of her native land is showcased with generosity of character. Unhei goes to school and decides she will not reveal her name to her fellow classmates, saying that she hasn’t picked one yet. She does not want to risk being bullied again. Her classmates, in helpful form, put together a Name Jar for her, with suggestions for what name she could pick. All except Joey. Joey takes some extra time to get to know Unhei, and the story thumps along to its heart-warming end.

This book delves into cultural identity and what it means for people to uproot themselves from familiar cultures and assimilate into new ones. It especially focuses on the struggle young children face, and the bullying that oftentimes ensues. It measures the weight of a name and what it means for every individual. It is also a warm narrative of what happens when you can find your identity in the country you came from, and the one you now call home.

Teachers, set mostly in a school, this book provides the perfect backdrop from broaching the conversation around cultural identity, bullying, family, self-identity, and what it means to be who you are. This books is also versatile in his accessibility. It can be read aloud to students from grades 1 – 6.

As an Extension Activity, you can do a Name Jar Activity with your students where you invite them to ask parents and/or guardians about how they got their names. Each student can then write his/her name and the reason for being given that name on a piece of paper, and slip it into a jar at the start of class the next day. Circle Sharing Time can be utilized to give each child the opportunity to pick a piece of paper out of the jar and the teacher can read out the contents of the paper. Such an activity would allow a better awareness of the identities and lifestyles of their peers, for each student.It can also be a great opportunity to help sow the seeds of respect, if their leaves are not already flourishing.

 

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