Review of The House Before Falling into the Sea

The House Before Falling into the SeaThe House Before Falling into the Sea
by Ann Suk Wang; illus. by Hanna Cha
Primary    Dial    40 pp.
3/24    9780593530153    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593530160    $10.99

In this picture book set in 1950, Kyung lives with her family in a seaside house in the southeastern Korean coastal city of Busan. As the North Korean and Chinese militaries push south, many families begin to flee toward Busan. Kyung’s parents take several of these refugees in, giving them shelter and safety. The girl shares her home, food, parents’ attention, and sleeping mat, which she tolerates but becomes increasingly annoyed about. She eventually learns grace and perspective: “visitors are not stones we can toss into the sea. They are people, our neighbors, to help and to love.” Cha’s illustrations pay exquisite attention to the beauty of the seaside landscape, using color to intensify the experience of being near the ocean. Vibrant greens and blues swirl, producing the feeling of an ever-moving sea, while wheaty shades of tan create sand and scrub, all of which contrast with the darkness of a makeshift air raid shelter where women and children hide. This gorgeously illustrated book contains beautiful turns of phrase and metaphors (“we sat like two quiet hills, the breeze combing through our hair”). It’s a touching homage to the author’s own grandparents’ heroism, which also offers rare insight into complex feelings about personal sacrifice and witnessing the suffering of others. A glossary is appended, and author and illustrator notes provide historical context.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Calling Caldecott co-author Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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Ann Wang

Thank you so much for this thoughtful and lovely review, Julie and The Horn Book!

Posted : Jan 24, 2024 09:32



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