The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi)

Hello, friends! Happy MLK Day! In honor of Dr. King, we took the Read Your World pledge to read a children’s book about diversity today, and we chose The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. This is a lovely story about a little girl who, after emigrating from Korea, considers taking an “American” name.

When Unhei moves from Korea to New York City, she is nervous for many reasons. Everything in America is different, even the names. When some older children on the bus tease her over her name, she decides that she might like a different one, and tells her new class that she will decide her name by the week’s end. To her surprise, her new classmates support her and provide her with a jar full of suggestions. Unhei begins to feel more welcome, and enjoys going through the names, but none of them feel quite right. Will Unhei decide to take an American name, or will she have the courage to keep the name she feels is hers?

This was a great book about cultural identity and how many kids can feel peer pressure to abandon theirs for the comfort of “fitting in.” I LOVED that Unhei’s classmates immediately supported her decision both ways: when she wanted to change her name AND when she decided to keep it. Plus, it was a great way to subtly introduce the real practice of immigrants adopting anglophone names, and the emotional conflict it can bring (I went to a high school that was around 50% Asian & Pacific Islander, and many of my friends had two names). It’s a complex subject that can spur thoughtful conversations about how our names, our cultures, and our personal identities can often be interconnected.

In addition, the illustrations are great and suit the story very well. This book is a bit long for baby bookworms (JJ was starting to get antsy), but it’s a great one for older kids and we recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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