The Name Jar

Unhei from The Name Jar (2001), but Yangsook Choi. Fair use rationale.

Yangsook Choi wrote and illustrated The Name Jar in 2001. It relays the story of Unhei, a young girl from Korea whose family moved to America. On her first day of school, Unhei’s fellow classmates fail to pronounce her name. They continue to make fun of it, referring to her as ‘hey-you’. She decides to choose an American name so she could fit in. Her classmates give her a glass jar full of their suggestions. However, Unhei’s mother, grandmother and her new friend Joey all encourage her to be proud of who she is. Choi’s subtle references to Korean culture all serve to prove how unique and special the young girl’s heritage is. The character of Unhei goes on a journey and discovers the importance of her name. This results in her deciding to keep the name Unhei, and teach her fellow classmates about Korea and the Korean language.

The illustration shows Unhei surrounded by her classmates as she sits in front of her name jar. The children seem to be leering at her, portraying the part of the story where they ridicule Unhei’s name. Choi illustrates Unhei in a white jumper, sharply contrasting with the clothing of those surrounding her, and drawing in the eye of the reader. The white highlights the innocence of Unhei, and the brightness of her clothes emphasises her uniqueness. It also acts as a blank canvas, waiting for her to make her decisions.

It is hard to separate Choi with this illustration because of the similarities between her and Unhei. Choi was also born in Korea and moved to New York to pursue her dream of art after being told that it would lead her nowhere. Therefore, the story of Unhei embodies the importance of children making their own decisions and being proud of their heritage.

 

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