The Korean Cinderella


By Shirley Climo
Illustrated by Ruth Heller

“Long ago in Korea, when magical creatures were as common as cabbages…”

This Cinderella story takes place in Korea hundreds of years ago and tells the story of a girl named Pear Blossom. When Pear Blossom’s mother dies, her  father marries a windowed woman who has a daughter just about Pear Blossom’s age after being set up by the town’s matchmaker. Pear Blossom calls her step mother Omani, the Korean word for mother, even though this woman pales in comparison to her own dear mother. Pear Blossom’s new step-sister (Peony) and stepmother treat Pear Blossom poorly and create unnecessary chores and tasks that are impossible for her to complete (that is, without a little magical assistance!)

When faced with difficult tasks presented by Omani and Peony, Pear Blossom receives the gracious help of tokgabi, or goblins. According to the author’s note, Tokgabis are goblins that “help of trouble humans as they choose.” Fortunately for Pear Blossom, it seems that the Tokgabis in this story recognize her good heart and only choose to torment her stepsister Peony. These tokgabi take many different forms, including a giant frog, a flock of helpful sparrows, and a huge black ox.

After completing one of the impossible chores with the help one of the tokgabi, Pear Blossom makes her way to the Village Festival. Crossing paths with magistrate and his men, Pear Blossom gets timid and runs away, losing her sandal to the water. Recognizing her beauty, the Magistrate stops his parade and retrieves the beautiful girl’s sandal. At the festival, Pear Blossom runs into her stepmother and stepsister, who accuse her of lying about completing the task and of stealing the fruit she has in her basket. As Pear Blossom tries to explain the help from the huge black ox, the Magistrate approaches and   asks for Pear Blossom’s hand in marriage as he returns her sandal. As Pear Blossom can now finally live happily ever after like Cinderella always seems to do, the sparrows return to visit Pear Blossom’s new home, and cry out Ewha!, which is Korean for Pear Blossom.

Throughout the story, Climo incorporates actual Korean words throughout the story to help foster some authenticity – “Pear Blossom was up before Hai, the sun.”  Climo’s author note reveals extensive research on the many different version of this story and some insight into her creative interpretation of the story.   Climo states that her research into all of the different Cinderella variations revealed one ending where Cinderella “escapes by dying and climbing to heaven on a rope.” I like that this ending strays away from the typical “happily ever after” ending and offered an alternative ending.

Heller’s illustrations in this picture book are striking and seem to capture the essence of traditional Korean art forms. The media of the illustrations are detailed and brightly colored paintings. Heller even incorporates with traditional Korean symbolism and patterning throughout the illustrations. According to the illustrator’s note (which I thought was really neat to include), Heller studied the paintings and patterns found on the eaves of Korean temples and did extensive research at Korean museums, palaces, festivals, concerts, and a visit to a recreated Korean village.


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