Polish Ambassador to Korea Krzysztof Majaka, left, reads out a Polish version of "The Little Prince" to parents and their chilren during a program "Book Reading for Children by Ambassadors in Korea," a part of the Korea Foundation' exhibition "Encounter the World through Children's Books" at the KF Gallery in Seoul on May 5. / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation
By Rachel Lee
When parents walk into a bookstore, they are surrounded by thousands of books from all directions, making it difficult to choose high-quality material for their children. For those parents and their children, 44 embassies and cultural centers in Seoul have compiled a collection of bestsellers for an exhibition dedicated to children's literature this month. At the event, titled "Encounter the World through Children's Books," at the Korea Foundation (KF) Gallery in Seoul, about 400 books recommended or donated by foreign envoys are on display until June 8. The KF, headed by President Lee Si-hyung, is an institution founded in 1992 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives. It has organized the event as part of its efforts to cultivate a global outlook among children here.
KF Vice President Yoon Keum-jin said the exhibition aimed to help children learn about the diverse cultures of 45 countries and 28 languages.
"Foreign ambassadors gave us recommendations that also were part of their childhood," Yoon said. "They grew up reading the books or some of them have been listed as bestsellers in their country. Visitors will find the original copies of those works."
The exhibition is divided into six sections ― Europe, Africa, South America, North America, Asia and Australia ― and each section gives basic information such as language, climate and religion of nations in that region.
"To give a better idea about each country, we have drawn a world map that presents symbolic features," said KF Global Center senior program officer Yoon Hyo-jin.
"For instance, we show truck art to represent Pakistan, and we have the Rose of Sharon for our country. Pakistani truck art is a unique form of art that best represents the culture and heritage of the country."
About 400 books from 45 countries are on display at the exhibition "Encounter the World through Children's
Books" at the KF Gallery in Seoul until June 8. / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation
World-famous productions on display include "The Little Prince" from France, "I Want My Hat Back" from Canada, "When Findus Was Little and Disappeared" from Sweden and "Aesop's Fables" from Greece. Some publications have been translated into Korean, which are also on show. Korean books feature in the Asian section.
There are also 14 translations of "The Little Prince" in a separate section.
Out of hundreds of publications, Yoon introduced "Trouble" by Polish writer Iwona Chmielewska, about a little girl who falls into deep thought when she leaves an iron scorch mark on an embroidered tablecloth, an heirloom from her grandmother.
The girl thinks about various ways of making excuses for her mistake to her mother, but ends up telling the truth, and her mother reacts with wisdom.
"I was amazed by how much we could make out of one single object in storytelling," the vice president said. "It's without doubt a masterpiece that I strongly recommend to children."
She believes that good children's stories should bring three elements together ― story, design and imagination.
"I don't think that being economically viable means a book is necessarily of high quality. It really depends on the sensibilities of the individual writer," she added.
The exhibition has more than the array of books on shelves ― it offers a special zone called "Explore Planet" filled with stars twinkling at night with the storyline for "The Little Prince."
A highlight of the exhibition is "Book Reading for Children by Ambassadors in Korea" on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Ambassadors or their spouses from 28 countries have each read a book from their country to Korean children for about 30 minutes at the gallery's seminar room.
"Ambassadors or their spouses read out a book in their language so children learn about the language of each country," Yoonsaid. "An interpreter also translates and reads aloud in Korean."
The Azerbaijan Embassy is one of the 44 countries that have provided stories for the event. For the readings, Azerbaijan Ambassador Ramzi Teymurov picked "Shengulum, Shungulum, Mengulum," about how baby goats escape a wolf.
"It was quite interesting for me to get together with Korean children," said Teymurov. "Initially I thought there might be difficulty for Korean children to understand the Azerbaijani tale due to the difference of culture. But apparently they listened very carefully and at the end they asked many questions regarding the tale and my country."
The ambassador added: "Azerbaijan is in the middle of Eurasia and we share some cultural similarities with Asian people, but Azerbaijan has its own cultural heritage."
During the exhibition, visitors can also get free Polaroid pictures, face painting and gifts.
Last month, the KF organized "Korea through eyes of foreigners" to find out what people from overseas think about Korean society, and how perceived problems can be improved.
Lecturers included medical interpreter Ilya Belyakov, John Riley, deputy head of mission at the New Zealand Embassy, and Korean zither player Jocelyn Clark. They shared their experiences of Korean food, traditional culture and prejudice.
The organization also launched the "KF Together Program" to help foreign residents understand Korea better through field trips to the Demilitarized Zone and other historical locations, discussions about Korean culture and issues, and networking opportunities to interact with Koreans.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."