When Spring Comes to the DMZ

By Uk-Bae Lee, translated by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won. Plough Publishing House, 2019. 40 pages. $17.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4–8.

Much of what I know of North and South Korea, I’ve read in the news in recent years. I think of the DMZ (demilitarized zone between the two nations) in relation to politics and the military and not so much as a home to flora and fauna; it is a strip of refuge separating families. This beautiful story rotates through multiple perspectives: a grandfather gazing through a telescope toward the family he is missing, animals making their homes in and migrating through the preserved land as the seasons change, and the military guarding the borders of both North and South Korea.

Uk-Bae Lee contrasts the peace of the untouched space between the border fences with the people on either side, lending his story to conversations about conservation, the impact of humans on our environment, and the effects of war on families. He also gives the reader a glimpse at a part of the world not often seen or discussed in picture books. Children will want to know why Korea was divided in two, and why the two sides have not settled their differences and taken down the fences. I will use this book as a read-aloud in the library when our school’s Quaker word of the month is “peace.”

The prose in this book is simple and short, making it appropriate for even our youngest pre-K students. The content and depth of the story will inspire conversations with our older elementary and middle school students. The informative paragraphs on Korea and the DMZ in the back of the book led me, as an adult, to the Internet to find out more about this piece of world history. The exploration of humanity and war, with an imagining at the end of the book of flinging open the gates (with a double-page foldout spread), leaves the reader with hope for a resolution and a more peaceful future.

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