In response to the pandemic and subsequent surges in racial violence against Asians and Asian Americans, Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park (Prairie Lotus, Clarion) has created KiBooka, a listing initiative that aims to boost Korean American and Korean diasporic voices.
KiBooka, a portmanteau of “Kids’ Books by Korean Americans,” evolved from Park’s longstanding “efforts [to support] overall equity and inclusion in the children’s book industry,” she said in a conversation with PW. Working with We Need Diverse Books, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and other organizations, and serving as closing keynote speaker at both the Kweli Color of Children’s Conference and BookFest @ Bank Street earlier this year, Park saw the development of the project as a logical extension of her endeavors to foster diversity. Inspired to “ground the universal in the specific,” as she does in her writing, she sought a way to amplify and support her community’s voices. Park found value in the simplicity of a consolidated webpage, so she “reached out to several creators, and that was the start. Every week since then, the KiBooka page has continued to grow.”
When asked about the relative increase in books by Korean Americans over the past few years, Park readily offered insight, revealing that immigration patterns can be “pretty reliably tracked” through publishing: “How long have communities been in this country, what kind of support systems have they developed, how strong are their English-language skills? When people have been here long enough, you begin to see their emergence in the literary arts.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a significantly higher percentage of Asians was able to immigrate to the U.S.; thus, Park said, the “current blossoming of Korean American and diaspora titles” is by the children of those Korean immigrants.
“I’m among the oldest first-generation Korean Americans; my parents came to this country in the 1950s,” she shared. “For years, I kept exhorting younger Korean writers to hurry up and get published, so there would be more of our stories! Sometimes I go to the KiBooka page and just scroll up and down—it’s such a delight for me to see so many faces and books.”
Park, who is the 2022 U.S. candidate for the Hans Christian Andersen Author Award, has a forthcoming book herself: One Thing You’d Save (Clarion, Mar. 2021), illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng, which is informed by her heritage. The middle grade collection of interconnected poems utilizes the three lines and single stanza structure of Korean sijo, which is “Korea’s national verse form, akin to Japanese haiku.” In the book, a teacher asks students what they would save in a house fire, provided all people and pets are safe. The students respond, discuss, argue, defend their choices, and change their minds.
Park said that her “heart breaks especially for the kids who have been bullied by their classmates and even, in some cases, by the adults in their lives,” identifying the present moment as “the white-hot catalyst” behind the KiBooka initiative. Attributing the sharp increase of violence against Asians since the pandemic began in “large part due to inflammatory statements by those in the outgoing federal administration,” Park said that innumerable people in her Asian community, herself included, “have been subject to ignorant, hurtful, and hateful actions.” Though Park admitted that she, like many others, has had difficulty finding the time and capacity to read and write during the pandemic, and has been busy helping to take care of her two young grandchildren (who she called particular blessings during this time), she felt compelled to do something.
Park believes that “bias and injustice flourish when not enough of us tell our stories, and when those stories are not shared widely enough”; part of resolving that, she says, is increased visibility. “We need to be seen—as Americans, as creators of great books, as community builders and contributors to society,” the author asserted. “To me, the KiBooka page is full of joy: the joys of creativity and artistic talent, of hard work paying off, of reaching out to young readers.”