South Korean picture book creators are increasingly in the international limelight. Copyrights for Korean picture books have been sold to dozens of countries. At the 2015 Bologna Ragazzi awards, five Korean picture books received special mentions across the four categories. And authors and illustrators from this nation regularly feature in other major competitions too. Korea also hosts the renowned Nami Concours, a biannual event showcasing the talents of picture book illustrators.
Today, Korean picture books are known for their varied – often unique – themes and wide range of illustrative styles. But this hasn’t always been the case. Up until the 1990s, the tendency was to focus on local tradition, culture and aesthetics.
When I started looking for Korean picture books for Planet Picture Book, I came across the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. This organisation actively promotes Korean literature across the globe. It also publishes a quarterly literature magazine Korean Literature Now (KLN). I found a treasure trove of information about some of the names to look out for in a back copy of this magazine (then under a different title).
Excited by my early success, I noted down a whole list of authors and illustrators, including Noh In-kyung for her book Mr Tutti & 100 Water Drops with its pixel art illustrations. I was also fascinated by Kwon Yoon-duck, specifically her belief that “children’s books should not ignore the very real problems that exist in society.” One of her picture books Flower Grandma is about women who were forced into sexual slavery in World War II.
I couldn’t find Flower Grandma in translation, or Noh In-kyung’s picture book either, or English translations of any of the fascinating works featured in the article. But I have uncovered, through additional research, three fabulous picture books by South Korean authors and illustrators for us to enjoy.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Chronicle Books, 2015)
Don’t Be Sorry, Dad by Nari Hong (Epigram Books, March 2016)
Shadow by Suzy Lee (Chronicle Books, 2010)[Image: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. Source: www.canva.com]