Jenna Yoon was studying Korean art history when she realized there were few resources on the topic available in libraries and bookstores in the United States. Now, the Austin mom has authored a book to help fill another gap: the representation of Asian characters in literature for young people.
“Lia Park and the Missing Jewel” is out now. It’s Yoon’s first book and is pegged for kids ages 8 through 12. In the book, she draws on her expertise.
“I felt like it was a good way to introduce Korean art history and Korean culture to kids in a fun way,” Yoon said.
But, above all, Yoon said she had one kid in mind: her daughter.
“My daughter is Korean-American. She was born here, and growing up she loved everything Disney, all the princesses, and especially Elsa,” Yoon said.
One day, Yoon bought her daughter a blonde wig like the character from the “Frozen” films. It was a hit for a while but then —
“She got really upset at me one day, and she demanded to know why her hair was was not yellow like Elsa’s and why her hair was a boring black color… And it broke my heart,” Yoon said.
Yoon tried to explain that differences make us all special. She also searched for books to bring home that better reflected her daughter’s appearance. But she came up short.
“And so I started writing this story because I wanted her to grow up seeing herself in books, something that I never had growing up. And so I wanted to do my part, I guess, to have her grow up in a more inclusive and diverse world,” Yoon said.
“Lia Park and the Missing Jewel” follows a Korean-American girl on an adventure to save her magical missing parents. The story takes place both in the United States and in Korea.
“I think that most kids reading this, I hope that they would just have a fun and engaging adventure with Lia. But they’ll also be able to understand their peers a bit better,” Yoon said.