A Piece Of Home
By Jeri Watts
Illustrated By Hyewon Yum
Published by Candlewick Press
Age Range: 5+

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Immigrant children will relate to the head-spinning switch from ordinary to different, and their classmates might better understand the emotional impact of moving to a foreign land.”  —Kirkus Reviews

When Hee Jun’s family moves from Korea to West Virginia, he struggles to adjust to his new home. His eyes are not big and round like his classmates’, and he can’t understand anything the teacher says, even when she speaks s-l-o-w-l-y and loudly at him. As he lies in bed at night, the sky seems smaller and darker. But little by little Hee Jun begins to learn English words and make friends on the playground. And one day he is invited to a classmate’s house, where he sees a flower he knows from his garden in Korea — mugunghwa, or rose of Sharon, as his friend tells him — and Hee Jun is happy to bring a shoot to his grandmother to plant a “piece of home” in their new garden. Lyrical prose and lovely illustrations combine in a gentle, realistic story about finding connections in an unfamiliar world.

Reviews & Accolades
Hee Jun and his family have moved from Korea to West Virginia, where his father has accepted a teaching job. The whole family struggles: “In Korea, I was ordinary,” reflects the school-age boy. “I was not extraordinary, not different.” His grandmother, a “wise and wonderful teacher” in Korea, sits dull-eyed on their new front porch. After Se Ra, Hee Jun’s younger sister, “bites and kicks and even spits on her teacher,” it’s suggested that Grandmother attend school with her so they can both learn English. Yum’s (Puddle) colorful spreads carefully attend to the characters’ expressions, emotions, and relationships. Grandmother’s favorite Korean flower turns out to grow in the garden of Hee Jun’s new friend, Steve. “ ‘Rose of Sharon,’ Steve says. ‘It’s mugunghwa in Korea,’ I say. ‘It’s rose of Sharon here,’ Steve says.” When Hee Jun brings a sprig back to his grandmother, readers know it’s the beginning of an ordinary life for the family. Closely observed and greatly moving, Watts’s (Kizzy Ann Stamps) story is a useful springboard for discussions about difference and tolerance.”
Publishers Weekly  (Starred Review)

“In his native Korea, Hee Jun is just like everyone else. His grandmother, a teacher, is proud and respected. When his father accepts a new job in West Virginia, Hee Jun and his family move across the world to a very foreign place where the words others speak sit heavy like stones in his mouth. As each family member struggles to find a place in this new life, Hee Jun makes a new friend who shows him a flower growing in his yard: mugunghwa, or rose of Sharon. Hee Jun brings a shoot home, and his grandmother plants a piece of home in their new garden. Hee Jun describes his journey at home and at his new school as he struggles to learn a new language and make friends with kids who seem very different to him. The illustrations often add humor to the narrative, showing a wide range of facial expressions and situations in colorful scenes. The tale stirs readers to empathy by showing the loneliness and difficulty of the change without specifically spelling out those things. When Hee Jun makes his first friend, he comes away with a flower that, like friendship, is something Hee Jun enjoyed in Korea. Hee Jun’s grandmother gives the flower to an American bride, sewing it on her dress in shared Korean tradition, another beautiful old-home-meets-new moment. This is a great story for use in the classroom, especially upon introduction of a foreign student or as part of a social studies curriculum. Recommended.”
Children’s Literature

“When his family moves from Korea to West Virginia, Hee Jun has a difficult time adjusting. He doesn’t look like the other children, he can’t understand English, and when he tries to speak, the words “feel like stones…in [his] mouth.” Even the sky looks “smaller and darker” than in Korea. His grandmother stays in school each day with his little sister, who is also having a hard time, but Hee Jun must cope on his own. As the months pass, though, brother, sister, and grandmother begin to learn English and Hee Jun slowly transforms from an outsider to an ordinary boy among his classmates. The story comes full circle when Hee Jun brings home a gift from a new friend—a rose of Sharon plant, the English name for the mugunghwa blossoms his grandmother grew in Korea. “‘A piece of heaven,’ she says. ‘A piece of home.'” The young boy’s distress, as well as his grandmother’s, at not fitting in is evident in the large watercolor illustrations. He appears alone in his front yard, slumped over his desk, or frowning as he sits in the center of the classroom. Grandmother changes from the brightly dressed teacher she was in Korea to a bowed woman wearing drab clothing. But the mugunghwa plant, foreshadowed on the title page, brings renewed spirit to them both as they savor a piece of home. This immigration story, paired with Irena Kobald’s My Two Blankets, can offer readers who feel different and alone hope that things will get better, and may encourage others to help them on their way. The lengthy text paints a realistic picture of difficulties faced by a family striving to make a new start, and the positive resolution is quietly satisfying. A solid addition for most collections.”
School Library Journal

“Moving from Korea to West Virginia, a young boy leaves the familiar behind. Watts begins this immigration story with Hee Jun describing his remarkable grandmother, who had sparkling eyes. “My grandmother could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary.” She coaxes the national tree of Korea, called the mugunghwa, to flower, revealing delicate blossoms with bright red centers. Readers are shown Hee Jun’s life back home, where he is ordinary. “A regular boy, playing and laughing and bossing my little sister.” Life seems easy and commonplace. With the announcement of the move, the little boy swings from a carefree outlook to concern and frustration. The narration clearly describes his irritation with the language barrier, while the illustrations show Korean Hangul lettering in his dialogue bubbles. Emotions show clearly in Hee Jun’s moon-shaped face as round-eyed classmates stare and the teacher speaks loudly to him. This tangible emotional struggle extends to others in the family as well. His little sister acts out, and grandmother loses her sparkle. But slowly, over time, the family adjusts to the new world, with Hee Jun teaching his grandmother the English name for mugunghwa. Watts’ clear storytelling successfully conveys Hee Jun’s emotional journey to readers, and Yum’s emotive illustrations sensitively complement the text. Immigrant children will relate to the head-spinning switch from ordinary to different, and their classmates might better understand the emotional impact of moving to a foreign land.”
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented

Cross-Group Friendship
Cultural Differences
Cultural Identity
Family Relationships
Family Separation
Grandparents & Intergenerational
Learning English
Migrant Life

United States (West Virginia)

Engagement Projects & Resources
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