Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Q&A with Jenna Yoon





Jenna Yoon is the author of the new middle grade novel Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms. It's a sequel to her novel Lia Park and the Missing Jewel. She lives in Austin, Texas.


Q: Your new novel is the second in your Lia Park series--did you know from the beginning that you'd be writing a series?


A: I definitely knew when I started writing the first book, that the overarching story lines would work best as a series. There’s so much more of the magical world, character development and their journeys, Korean mythology, and art history to come. I’m so excited to finally share Lia’s second adventure with readers.


Q: What inspired the plot of Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms?


A: I wanted to introduce a Korean mythological monster but one that hasn’t been covered in middle grade books yet. The plot for Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms was inspired by two mythologies.


The story of Jihagukdaejeok, a nine-headed monster, was that he kidnapped a maiden and took her back to the underworld. A general eventually rescues her and defeats the monster. The second is about the foundation mythology of Korea. Dangun, the founder of Korea, ruled with three heavenly heirlooms: a rattle, dagger, and mirror. Elements from both these mythologies was my starting point when crafting the plot for the second book.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the first book in the series, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, said, in part, “This contemporary tale incorporates Korean history, national landmarks, and mythology in an engaging way. Korean words and phrases are also woven throughout the text, reinforcing Lia’s connection to her culture and its integral role in the story.” What do you think of that description?

A: I absolutely loved the wonderful review and description by Kirkus Review. It so perfectly captures what I hoped to achieve.


Lia Park is a Korean American tween and at the start of Book 1, Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, she isn’t as connected to her Korean culture and sees it as something her parents force her to study. As the story progresses and especially in book 2, Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms, she embraces her culture and it becomes a huge part of her identity.


I was fortunate enough to have lived in both Korea and the United States and was able to experience both cultures, but my daughters were born here and will most likely live here all their lives. I wanted to send a message, to my kids and kids like them, to be proud of their culture, that there is power and so much richness in embracing their identity.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the books?


A: I hope Korean American and Asian kids would feel seen when reading the books, and they would see themselves as the heroes of their own stories. But also I hope all kids would have a fun adventure with Lia and Joon.


Another reason for blending Korean mythology, art, history, and language was so that it would be easily accessible entry point into Korean culture for all kids, and it would spark their curiosity and imagination.


I received letters from a class after a school visit. And I was completely surprised that a majority of the kids wrote letters to me in Korean. Not romanization Korean, but using actual Korean letters. I can only imagine the time and effort it must have taken to look everything up and try to write using unfamiliar characters. It was amazing and a truly special experience for me to see how the kids chose to engage with Korean culture in this way, through language.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on new material which I cannot talk about quite yet. ;)


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: All the landmarks, art historical sites, cities, and neighborhoods in the book actually do exist! I just use them for magical purposes. So feel free to use the Lia Park series as your personal tour guide.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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