A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured
Written by Helena Ku Rhee
Illustrated by Stella Lim
With Ji-Hyuk Kim
(Candlewick Press $17.99, Ages 4-6)
Sora’s Seashells, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim with Ji-Hyuk Kim, is so much more than a beach or summer story. It’s a multi-layered, moving, and intergenerational picture book about a grandmother and granddaughter relationship. Gentle in tone with art that beautifully captures the book’s mood, the story is also about loss, and passing kindness forward to other’s lives, including strangers. Additionally, Sora’s Seashells addresses the meaning of a name and how it can bring joy.
When Sora’s grandmother (Halmoni), visits each summer from South Korea, the pair spend special time together gathering seashells at the beach. Though lovely, the prettiest shell that Halmoni picks is intended for someone else. “It’s a gift,” Halmoni tells Sora, left “For anyone who sees its beauty.” Sora is a bit confounded at first. Parents, however, may explain to children being read the story what a thoughtful gesture Halmoni has made.
Not quite understanding the largesse in Halmoni’s action of spreading kindness, Sora tucks away a few of her favorite finds when she and Halmoni go back to the beach the next day. Later at home, Halmoni can be seen in art glancing from Sora’s bedroom door at her granddaughter who inspects her collection that brings her such happiness.
At the beginning of Kindergarten, some classmates tease Sora about her unusual name, wondering if it’s really supposed to be Sara. The bullies persist over several weeks but Sora chooses not to tell her parents. When she learns her Halmoni has passed away, she is beset by sadness for so many reasons all at once. Sad she’ll no longer be able to spend summers with Halmoni. Sad at remembering times together and the way Halmoni said Sora’s name. And sad how the bullies treated her at school. “I hate my name. I want to be Sara!” Sora tells her parents through a steady stream of tears.
A restorative trip to the beach and learning that her name means seashell in Korean, helps Sora get things in perspective. Most of all, Sora’s mom explains that Halmoni felt finding a perfect shell was like receiving a wonderful gift. Sora was that gift!
And if that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, when Sora shares the meaning of her name at show and tell, and gives each of her classmates a shell, including those who’d teased her, my eyes welled up with tears. She knew she mattered, took the high road, and was rewarded. I was especially touched when Sora left her last shell on the bench at the beach exactly as Halmoni had. What a meaningful way to end the book. The art, rendered in warm watercolor and finished digitally, is soothing and sensitive. Full of caring and love, hope, and kindness, Sora’s Seashells is the kind of feel-good read that is easy to recommend.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel