Goyangi Means Cat
By Christine McDonnell; Illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
It is Soo Min’s first week in America. She is trying to adjust to a new country, a different culture and a new set of parents. Soo Min only speaks Korean; English is still foreign to her. She survives the first few days with the limited Korean her Omah (Mom) and Apah (Dad) know. Here, Christine McDonnell beautifully captures how the family struggles to communicate and eventually manages to carry on everyday conversations with a small set of Korean words. This set of words is also included in the narration.
Soo Min’s first bond is with the couple’s goyangi (cat). Lonely and quiet, Soo Min finds deep comfort in Goyangi. But one day Goyangi absconds. Omah and Soo Min search the streets for Goyangi, but their efforts are in vain. Soo Min loses the single thing that was a solace to her. Looking beyond, one can easily draw a parallel here—Soo Min’s anxiety and sadness over how disoriented and strange Goyangi must be feeling, clearly portrays the little girl’s own feelings.
“Back at the house, sitting on Omah’s lap,
Soo Min cried and cried.
She cried for Goyangi.
She cried for Korea.
So many tears.”
Succinct and simple, these words convey the way it is for a child. At the same time, the rawness makes it very profound. I also noticed that the word “adoption” does not appear anywhere in the book, and that speaks volumes about the quality of writing in presenting a sensitive issue. The illustrations seem to carry the same gentleness and warmth as the text through a plethora of textures and patterns. This book can definitely soothe adopted kids who can relate to Soo Min’s emotion and situation.
Although my own eight-year-old daughter was familiar with the concept of adoption, this story gave way to more questions—“Why a different country? How come she is not a baby? Where was she living in Korea before they brought her here?” The book helped us discuss these issues.
In the climax, Soo Min ends up uttering her first English word, “home.” And when she says “Goyangi home,” we get a clear sense of how Soo Min is finally beginning to feel. We can close the book with a sigh of pleasant relief.