The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
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Grade Level: K-2
The Name Jar is about a Korean girl name Unhei, who has recently moved to the United States with her family. On the school bus, for her first day of school, she introduces herself, by name, only to be met by laughter and jeers as the kids struggle with its’ pronunciation. To avoid further embarrassment, Unhei announces to the class, during her introduction, that she currently has no name, and has internally decided to choose something new, and more American. A name jar is created, where everyone from class puts suggested names on blank papers, to assist her decision. She struggles with her choice, all the while remembering her grandmother’s words about pride and comfort with regards to her Korean heritage. While acclimating, she is befriended by a boy named Joey who shows interest in learning more about her. She begins to get more comfortable with her new surroundings, including several trips to a local Korean grocery store, and eventually announces in class that she has settled on her own, birth name, Unhei, after all. The class works together to learn its’ pronunciation, and Unhei feels like a true member of her classroom community. Her friend, Joey, even takes a Korean nickname, Chinku, which means friend.
Element One, Self-Love and Knowledge:
The Name Jar fits perfectly under the umbrella of element one because the main character of the story gains a sense of pride in her family’s culture and heritage as she struggles to adapt to life in a new country. Students will recognize this transformation in Unhei, and see how she acknowledges where she came from, and also recognize the class’ willingness to both, accept her, and learn about her culture and heritage. As a result, hopefully students will use this reading as a stepping-stone toward sharing their families’ cultures and heritages with their peers.
Possible In-Class Activity:
Upon completion of The Name Jar, students could be asked to go home and interview their parents, asking pointed questions about culture and heritage within their families. (Perhaps even asking if their birth names have any ancestral significance might be a nice touch?) Students, practicing writing and recording techniques, could then put together a small report that they would then share with the class. Everyone involved can then learn about a variety of cultures, gain respect and deeper understanding of the kids around them, and just as importantly, gain valuable experience speaking in front of the group.