Let's Go to Taekwondo!: A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards by Aram Kim

Hello, Aram Kim! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for stopping by to celebrate Let’s Go to Taekwondo! A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards! Please tell us about Gaby, Alejandra, Ravi, Yoomi, Jun, Pete, Yoon, and Lizzy. 

Aram Kim: Gaby, Alejandra, and Ravi are friends of Yoomi at the Taekwondo dojang. They all have white belts, and are practicing together to get a yellow belt. Caleb joins the group later, so Yoomi and friends show him how to practice. Jun and Yoon are Yoomi’s older brothers, and practice with older kids like Pete and Lizzy, who all have different colored belts and help younger kids with the forms. We don’t see Pete much because he moves during the time.
Some of the new characters’ names are from people I know! For example, Alejandra was the name of a little girl I met at a bookstore couple of years ago. I was signing a book for her and asked her name. She told me that her name was very long and difficult. Then she spelled it out for me. I never forget. 

What was the most fun part of working on Let’s Go to Taekwondo! A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards?

Aram Kim: The research was very fun. Taekwondo is very common and popular in Korea as an after school activity for children. When I was growing up, it wasn’t as popular for girls, so I didn’t learn it. Since I had never practiced taekwondo, I spent some time in the dojang in my Queens neighborhood observing and doing research, which was a lot of fun. I also went to see a taekwondo promotion test, and the event was full of energy and emotions. The dojang was filled with families and friends who came to support the young children who were about to take the big test. There was an atmosphere of nervousness around the dojang, but also joy, excitement and enthusiasm. When the kids received the next level belt, I could clearly see how immensely proud they were and how much it meant for them.

Later, I registered in one dojang to learn taekwondo. It was a great experience. I trained in a small group of amazing people – everyone helped/taught each other in addition to the Master’s training. We started and finished with a meditation. Because taekwondo is such a common activity for children in South Korea, I always thought it would be pretty easy to learn. Of course those special demonstrations I saw on TV or professional athletes competing in the Olympics were different, but still. Turned out it wasn’t easy at all (SURPRISE!)! Somehow I ended up in an acupuncturist’s office for the first time in my life. Also I never got a yellow belt! In fact I never even made it to the promotion test. Now I understand even better how greatly proud those little kids in the dojang in my neighborhood were, and how rightfully so. 

Please finish the following sentence starters:

White, yellow, blue, red, and black are collectively called Obangsek in Korea, and they are five important colors in Korean tradition. Obangsek derives from the traditional belief in harmony of the universe. Each color symbolizes a direction as well as natural elements. White is metal and south. Yellow is soil and center. Blue represents wood and east. Red is fire and west. Black symbolizes water and north. These five colors can be found all around Korean culture including traditional clothing, ornaments, architecture, paintings, and even food. Taekwondo also uses this Obangsek as its basic belt colors and rankings. In many dojangs today, more colors are added to encourage and motivate children to practice. For example, in the story, older kids all have different colored belts that are not part of Obangsek – Jun has orange, Pete is green, Yoon and Lizzy has purple in the beginning of the book.

I hope Let’s Go to Taekwondo! A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards inspires children to persevere and be mindful, but also lets them know that it is okay to feel afraid or nervous, and that grownups struggle to learn something new, too.

I’ve always admired people who never stop learning. My paternal grandma started to learn English in her 70s while she was bedridden. My maternal grandma learned to use the computer in her 70s for the first time and wrote me a very formal, long email just like she would write a letter! By having Yoomi’s grandma learn and struggle alongside Yoomi, I wanted children to see that we never stop learning in our lives and learning is enriching. It also is a reminder for myself.

Taegeukgi is a Korean national flag. Every dojang displays taeguekgi alongside its country’s national flag, as a sign of respect to the origin country of taekwondo. The red and blue symbol on the white background along with the four different combinations of black strokes on each corner represent the balance and the harmony of the universe.

No Kimchi for Me! is the book that opened my eyes to the joy of connecting with readers and the importance of representation to young readers. Experiencing how deeply readers engaged and connected with the story surprised me as a newbie author/illustrator and educated me a lot on how much impact I could bring into the children’s lives. I am very happy and appreciative that the story started with my silly obsession with kimchi pancakes is now out in the world meeting many young readers. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I am making linocuts of Yoomi, Ravi, Gaby, Alejandra and Caleb. I am making limited edition linocut prints of each character as part of the preorder campaign. I used to love printmaking, but at some point, it was put aside because printmaking requires a lot of time, energy, and often special equipments. Now, it feels like a perfect chance to bring back my old love of printmaking and make something special. Creating linocut prints is relatively easy and could be done at home with minimal tools. I did a test print with Yoomi and loved the process. It felt so good to carve again. But it turned out that I totally forgot printmaking makes a mirror image of what I draw on a plate! Now her uniform is worn in the wrong direction! I’m currently working on Ravi, demonstrating a flying kick.

Look for 
Let’s Go to Taekwondo! A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards! on April 28, 2020. 

Aram Kim is a New York-based illustrator and designer who grew up in South Korea. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she is the author of Cat on the Bus and No Kimchi for Me!, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.


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