Cover image for When my name was Keoko
When my name was Keoko
Park, Linda Sue.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt], [2002]

Physical Description:
199 pages ; 22 cm
With national pride and occasional fear, a brother and sister face the increasingly oppressive occupation of Korea by Japan during World War II, which threatens to suppress Korean culture entirely.
General Note:
Publisher imprint varies.
Reading Level:
610 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.6 8.0 58224.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.1 14 Quiz: 31534 Guided reading level: V.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Young Adult
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them--even their names--are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an attempt to protect Uncle, who is suspected of aiding the Korean resistance. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war.

Author Notes

Linda Sue Park was born in Urbana, Illinois on March 25, 1960. She received a B.A. in English from Stanford University. After graduating, she worked as a public-relations writer for a major oil company for two years. She obtained advanced degrees in literature from Trinity College, Dublin in Ireland and from the University of London. Before becoming a full-time author, she held numerous jobs including working for an advertising agency, teaching English as a second language to college students, and working as a food journalist. Her first book, Seesaw Girl, was published in 1999. Her other books include The Kite Fighters, Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems), and A Single Shard, which won the 2002 Newbery Medal. She also wrote Storm Warning, which is the ninth book in the 39 Clues series. Her title A Long Walk to Water made the New York Times bestseller list.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-9. Except for Sook Nyul Choi's Year of Impossible Goodbyes (1991), very little has been written for young people about the Japanese occupation of Korea. Park, who won the Newbery Medal this year for A Single Shard, set in twelfth-century Korea, draws on her parents' experiences as well as extensive historical research for this story. The plot unfolds through the alternating first-person narratives of Sun-hee, who is 10 years old in 1940, and her older brother, Tae-yul. They lose their names and their language when they are forced to use Japanese at school and in public. The far-off war comes closer and hardship increases with brutal neighborhood roundups. Always there are secrets: Who's a traitor? Who's pretending to be a traitor? Sun-hee tries to help her uncle in the resistance, and she's overcome with guilt when she puts him in terrible danger. Tae-yul becomes a kamikaze pilot for the Japanese: he loves learning to fly, but his secret aim is to help the Americans. There's also family conflict, especially about the submissive role of a young girl: does she disobey her father for the good of her country? Why doesn't her father resist? The two young voices sound very much the same, and the historical background sometimes takes over the narrative. The drama is in the facts about the war, and Park does a fine job of showing how the politics of the occupation and resistance affect ordinary people. Be sure to check out Park's Writers and Readers column, "Staying on Past Canal Street: Reflections on Asian Identity," [BKL Ja 1 & 15 02]. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-Living in Korea in the 1940s was difficult because the Japanese, who occupied the country, seemed determined to obliterate Korean culture and to impose their own on its residents. Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, still go to school every day, but lessons now consist of lectures and recitations designed to glorify Japan. To add to their unhappiness, everyone, adults and children alike, must give up their Korean names and take new Japanese ones. Sun-hee, now called Keoko, and Tae-yul, newly named Nobuo, tell the story in alternating narrative voices. They describe the hardships their family is forced to face as Japan becomes enmeshed in World War II and detail their individual struggles to understand what is happening. Tension mounts as Uncle, working with the Korean resistance movement, goes into hiding, and Tae-yul takes a drastic step that he feels is necessary to protect the family. What is outstanding is the insight Park gives into the complex minds of these young people. Each of them reacts to the events in different ways-Sun-hee takes refuge in writing while Tae-yul throws his energies into physical work. Yet in both cases they develop subtle plans to resist the enemy. Like the Rose of Sharon tree, symbol of Korea, which the family pots and hides in their shed until their country is free, Sun-hee and Tae-yul endure and grow. This beautifully crafted and moving novel joins a small but growing body of literature, such as Haemi Balgassi's Peacebound Trains (Clarion, 1996) and Sook Nyul Choi's The Year of Impossible Goodbyes (Houghton, 1991), that expands readers' understanding of this period.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1. Sun-hee (1940) "It's only a rumor," Abuji said as I cleared the table. "They'll never carry it out." My father wasn't talking to me, of course. He was talking to Uncle and my brother, Tae-yul, as they sat around the low table after dinner, drinking tea. I wasn't supposed to listen to men's business, but I couldn't help it. It wasn't really my fault. Ears don't close the way eyes do. I worked slowly. First I scraped the scraps of food and dregs of soup into an empty serving dish. Then I stacked the brass bowls--quietly, so they wouldn't clang against one another. Finally, I moved around the table and began putting the bowls through the little low window between the sitting room and the kitchen. The kitchen was built three steps down from the central courtyard, and the sitting room three steps up. From the window I could reach a shelf in the kitchen. I put the bowls on the shelf one at a time, arranging them in a very straight line. The longer I stayed in the room, the more I'd hear. Uncle shook his head. "I don't know, Hyungnim," he said, disagreeing respectfully. "They're masters of organization--if they want this done, you can be sure they will find a way to do it. And I fear what will happen if they do. Our people will not stand for it. I am afraid there will be terrible trouble--" Abuji cleared his throat to cut off Uncle's words. He'd noticed me kneeling by the table with the last of the bowls in my hands; I was listening so hard that I'd stopped moving. Hastily, I shoved the bowl through the window and left the room, sliding the paper door closed behind me. What rumor? What was going to happen? What kind of trouble? When I asked Tae-yul later, he said it was none of my business. That was his answer a lot of the time. It always made me want to clench my fists and stamp my foot and hit something. Nobody ever told me anything. I always had to find out for myself. But at least I was good at it. You had to do two opposite things: be quiet and ask questions. And you had to know when to be quiet and who to ask. When was easy. I was supposed to be quiet most of the time. The youngest in the family was never supposed to talk when older people were talking. And girls weren't supposed to talk much anyway, not when men or boys were around. So listening was easy for me; I'd done it all my life. But lots of times I didn't learn what I wanted to know by listening. That was when I had to ask questions. I could have asked my mother, Omoni, when we were doing housework together. But I'd learned that it was useless to ask her most questions. Either she didn't know the answer or she wouldn't tell me. Men's business, she'd say. Abuji knew almost all the answers. I was sure of that. But I hardly ever asked him. He always said exactly what he wanted to say, and no more. That left Uncle and Tae-yul. Usually, I tried Uncle first. He was quite cheerful about answering me most of the time. And when he wasn't around, I'd ask my brother. Firstborn son, only son--the men usually included him in their talks. Tae-yul was thirteen, three years older than me. He was often impatient when I asked questions, and acted as if I were stupid for asking in the first place. But that was better than not knowing things. Listening and asking weren't enough, of course. After that came the hard part--the figuring out. They'll never carry it out. . . . They're masters of organization. . . . I knew who "they" were. The Japanese. Whenever there was talk that I wasn't supposed to hear, it was almost always about the Japanese. A long time ago, when Abuji was a little boy and Uncle just a baby, the Japanese took over Korea. That was in 1910. Korea wasn't its own country anymore. The Japanese made a lot of new laws. One of the laws was that no Korean could be the boss of anything. Even though Abuji was a great scholar, he was only the vice-principal of my school, not the principal. The person at the top had to be Japanese. The principal was the father of my friend Tomo. All our lessons were in Japanese. We studied Japanese language, culture, and history. Schools weren't allowed to teach Korean history or language. Hardly any books or newspapers were published in Korean. People weren't even supposed to tell old Korean folktales. But Uncle did sometimes--funny stories about foolish donkeys or brave tigers, or exciting ones about heroes like Tan-gun, the founder of Korea. Tae-yul and I loved it when Uncle told us stories. We still spoke Korean at home, but on the streets we always had to speak Japanese. You never knew who might be listening, and the military guards could punish anyone they heard speaking Korean. They usually didn't bother older people. But my friends and I had to be careful when we were in public. Every once in a while another new law was announced, like the one when I was little that required us to attend temple on the Emperor's birthday. I decided that this must be the rumor--Abuji and Uncle had heard about a new law. I was right. 2. Tae-yul Sun-hee is a real pain sometimes. Always asking questions, always wanting to know what's going on. I tell her it's none of her business, which is true. Abuji would tell her if he wanted her to know. But I don't know what's happening either. Why hasn't he told me? It's not like I'm a little kid anymore--I'm old enough to know stuff. One day I get home from school and Uncle comes in right after me. He's early, it's way before dinnertime. He's got a newspaper in one hand, and he walks right past me without even saying hello. "Hyungnim!" he calls. Abuji is in the sitting room. Uncle goes in and closes the door behind him. I listen hard, but I can't hear anything--until Uncle raises his voice. "I won't do it!" he shouts. "They can't do this--they can't take away our names! I am Kim Young-chun, I will never be anyone else!" Omoni and Sun-hee come out of the kitchen and look at me. I turn away a little, annoyed that I don't know what's going on. Just then Abuji opens the door and waves his hand toward us. So we all go into the room. Uncle is pacing around like crazy. Abuji reads out loud from the newspaper: "'By order of the Emperor, all Koreans are to be graciously allowed to take Japanese names.'" "'Graciously allowed . . .'" Uncle says. His voice is shaking, he's so mad. "How dare they twist the words! Why can't they at least be honest--we are being forced to take Japanese names!" Abuji reads some more to himself, then says, "We must all go to the police station in the next week to register." Uncle curses and pounds his fist against the wall. My name, Tae-yul, means "great warmth." My grandfather--Abuji's father--chose it. It's one of our traditions for the grandfather to do the naming. Excerpted from When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.