cover image The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea

Anne Sibley O'Brien, . . Charlesbridge, $14.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-1-58089-302-2

This uniquely formatted tale owes its strength to O'Brien's (the illustrator of the Jamaica books) meticulous research. In multiple-paneled comic-book style, the author/artist retells the story of the illegitimate son of a high Korean official, who is forbidden to address the man as "Father." Young Hong Kil Dong twice runs away, first to the monks in the mountains, then to the countryside—"Perhaps there I will find a clue to my destiny," he tells his mother earnestly—where he stumbles upon a hideaway for bandits. Their misfortunes are more affecting than his own. He decides to train them to fight for justice for the common people. Elements of magic and martial arts mastery combine to produce a story with an unflagging pace. The plot's utter improbability (at one point, Hong Kil Dong uses his mystic powers to conjure up seven straw dolls that look and speak just like him) contrasts with O'Brien's historically faithful renderings of ceremonial silk robes and temple architecture. A series of autobiographical panels shows O'Brien herself discovering the original story ("What a great idea for a children's book!" says a thought balloon above her head); she also includes plenty of other background material. Ages 9-12. (July)