Title: Seasaw Girl
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Jean and Mou-sein Tseng
Target Ages: 8-12
Genre: Realistic Historical Fiction
Jade Blossom never ventures beyond the walls of her family’s Inner Court. In seventeenth-century Korea, a girl of good family does not leave home. Until she marries, she is expected to spend her time learning to sew, to embroider, to do laundry, to manage a kitchen—so that when she makes her wedding journey to her husband’s Inner Court, she will be a good wife.
Jade accepts her destiny, and yet she is endlessly curious. She eagerly questions her older brother about the adventures that only boys can have: trips to the market and to the ancestral grave sites in the mountains, reading and painting, conversations with their father about business and politics. Sometimes the things Tiger Heart describes are more vivid in her mind than her everyday surroundings. If only she could see them for herself.
Jade Blossom’s daring attempt to enlarge her world succeeds in surprising ways, revealing the truth of her father’s words: “The path of wisdom lies not in certainty, but in trying to understand.”
“I have learned to make it enough” (51).
“Right behavior, good form, wisdom, faith, and love. They are small words, but they hold all that is good about men” (61).
Seesaw Girl is a middle grade novella. Short chapters and occasional black and white pictures make it ideal for youngsters getting comfortable reading longer books.
Jade, the protagonist, lives in a world foreign to most children in the West, so the story is an opportunity to expand young readers’ understanding of other cultures and eras. There are many possibilities to discuss how her life, culture, and future are different than the typical middle grader.
During a conversation Jade has with her father, he says (in relation to the Dutch sailors who are shipwrecked there), “And though we have many differences, there are things about their laws that are in harmony with ours.” This quote is a perfect springboard for discussing similarities, though maybe not as obvious, and building connections between cultures.
Young readers will connect with Jade because she is passionate, curious, and even a bit mischievous. She has to do chores and to follow her family’s rules. Similar to many her age, she must deal with a close friend moving away as well as the uncertainty of change and growing up.
Jade matures as the novella progresses. For instance, her actions inadvertently cause a servant to lose his job. Jade goes before her father to take responsibility for her actions and respectfully appeals on the servant’s behalf. From her mother, she learns the importance of being content in her circumstances and taking pride in her role. These timeless lessons resonate with readers of all ages.
Korea’s policy of isolation
The Sperwer (Sparrow) shipwreck
Choson period in Korea
Choson period in Korea
Visit Always in the Middle for more Marvelous Middle Grade recommendations.