Monday, February 23, 2009

Waiting for Mama

Lee Tae-Jun's Waiting for Mama, first published in a newspaper 1938, is unusual among the children's books I've read for its almost muted understatement. Its story and the language in which it's rendered are disarmingly simple. And like so many children's books, it has a repeated element: in this case though it's an ever-so-light ding-ding that sounds each time a streetcar passes without bringing the main character's mother home. This edition is gorgeously illustrated by Kim Dong-Soeng, and, interestingly, he's the one who provides a resolution to the otherwise ambiguous tale. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the subtlety of the final pages makes for quite a tolerable compromise between faithfulness to the original text and, I'm guessing, a contemporary demand the publisher perceives. (I would love to read a version without this imposition).

A sidenote: Waiting for Mama is the story of a (guessing) four-year-old boy who waits for his mother at a streetcar stop by himself. Intellectually, I resist the idea that reading with Sam is about imparting lessons, and I'm critical of my culture's hyperconcern with safety. I will at some point, however, tell Sam while reading this book that he should always be accompanied by an adult (who should ideally be accompanied by an adult him- or herself, and so on ad infinitum) when on the streets of Toronto. It's amazing how being a parent forces one to test one's ideals.

Here might be a good point to make mention of Darren O'Donnell's work, which, among other things, frequently issues challenges to the tendency to overprotect children.