“Told in gentle language, this quiet story focuses on the challenges of being caught between two cultures.” —Carolyn Janssen, School Library Journal
Cooper’s Lesson is an inspiring story about identity and intergenerational friendship, featuring a young biracial boy, written in both English and Korean. Cooper has had about enough of being half and half. And he’s really had enough of Mr. Lee, the owner of his neighborhood grocery store, speaking to him in Korean even though Cooper can’t keep up. Frustrated, he often wonders why things have to be so complicated. Why can’t he just be one race or the other? But one moment in Mr. Lee’s store changes everything. Soon Cooper realizes that the things that make up a person are never simple — whether one talks about them in English or Korean. Richly hued oil paintings and tender vivid prose combine to bring the characters to life.
Reviews & Accolades
“With his mixed heritage, the boy doesn’t know where he fits in…Told in gentle language, this quiet story focuses on the challenges of being caught between two cultures. The book follows through on the bilingual theme by presenting the text in both English and Korean. The artwork features wide brush strokes and large flat areas of color. Backgrounds are often minimal, while the people are more brightly painted. Using few details, Cogan skillfully captures frustration, confusion, and understanding in the characters’ faces. This story can be used to explore and stimulate discussion about issues of identity.” —Carolyn Janssen, School Library Journal
“Both author and illustrator are Korean American, and their poignant picture book is an intimate look at a biracial child’s bewilderment, denial, anger, and, finally, acceptance about being “half and half.” …there’s no simple, sentimental “lesson” here, despite the book’s title. Language is the heart of the story, which is told in both English and Korean. The beautiful full-page oil paintings draw on several traditions to reveal the problems and the riches of the boy’s cross-cultural identity. A distant view of the store window evokes Cooper’s alienation; in contrast are the close-up, impressionistic portraits of the scowling boy at home and outside. Many immigrant families will want this for the truth it tells about the important role of language and the bonds across race, culture, and generation.” —Hazel Rochman, Booklist
“Establishing Cooper’s circumstances with care, Shin draws an uncertain child with a foot in two worlds…Korean dialogue sprinkled through the English text emphasizes the boy’s frustration at being unable to communicate. While the story will have most resonance for those struggling with a second language, the themes of wrongdoing and reparations will speak to all children.” —Publisher’s Weekly
Bi-racial identity, immigration
Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, Korea and was adopted as a child. She grew up in a working class neighborhood in the Chicago area. As an adoptee she is part of a 200,000-person population of displaced and removed children from South Korea since the end of the Korean War. She is a parent of two bi-racial Korean American children; when they were very young she was frustrated by not being able to find any books that had characters who looked like them or who shared facets of their identity. She also wanted to write a story that was set in the city and not in a generic, sentimental, pastel domestic world. She was inspired to write Cooper’s Lesson to explore issues of bi-racial identity, language, immigration, and intergenerational understanding.
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