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Picture Book Review – Sora’s Seashells

SORA’S SEASHELLS
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 cover Sora and Halmoni at beach picking shells

 

 

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.

 

Sora's Seashells int1 Sora and Halmoni comb for shells
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

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.

 

Sora's Seashells int2 empty bench at beach
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

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
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I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

I’M NEW HERE
Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
(Charlesbridge; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I'm New Here CVR 300

 

Across America the back-to-school season is in full swing. Some kids are returning to school, others are first timers. Many are not just entering a new school, but starting again in a new city. I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, introduces three students, Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia, beginning their educational life in an entirely different country, our country, and facing perhaps the biggest challenge when many have come here under a variety of circumstances.

We easily get into the head of each character and learn their hopes and fears. There are new words to learn, sounds strange to their ears and memories of life back home that at first makes adjusting difficult at many levels. Who hasn’t been new at something, full of apprehension and self-doubt? Will I ever learn the new ways in this new land?

“Back home I knew the language.
My friends and I talked all day long.
Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”

I'm New Here Spread 1 300
Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

“Here I am alone.
Here I am confused.
Here I am sad.”

But when Maria uses some newly acquired English words in an attempt to join a soccer game, “someone understands.” The same for Jin when he discovers a fellow classmate also shares his love of super heroes and creating comics. Fatimah’s artistic talent attracts positive attention, too. Ultimately the story reinforces a positive message of acceptance, encouraging our kids to see life through someone else’s eyes and maybe make an interesting new friend at the same time.

O’Brien’s lyrical language gently moves the story forward and helps us walk in the main characters’ shoes. We understand they are not whining or complaining, just expressing real concerns that children in their situations are apt to feel. Often though, assisted by O’Brien’s evocative, muted watercolor illustrations, few to no words are required.

 

I'm New Here Spread 3 300
Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

In the end page’s A Note from the Author, O’Brien explains that children like Maria or Fatimah, “may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.” Others, like Jin “may have left behind close family members.” Keeping this in mind when you read the story with your children, you’ll help build awareness and empathy that may encourage youngsters to reach out to children just like Maria, Fatimah or Jin in their schools and make them feel welcome and a part of the community.

To learn about I’m Your Neighbor — a project cofounded by O’Brien promoting the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups — please head to www.imyourneighborbooks.org.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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