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The Korean Cinderella

Page history last edited by Jackie Charbeneau 9 years, 3 months ago


 The Korean Cinderella: by Shirley Climo and Illustrated by Ruth Heller 



Plot Summary


The Korean Cinderella,  published in 1993, was written by Shirley Climo and illustrated by Ruth Heller. The story takes place 300 years ago in the magical and mysterious land of Korea where a husband and wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl which they named Pear Blossom after the pear tree her father planted in their courtyard. With each passing season, Pear Blossom became even more beautiful but when winter finally passed, Pear Blossom’s mother also passed away. In order for his daughter to have a mother, Pear Blossom’s father donned on his tall horsehair hat (Climo, p. 10) and went to the matchmaker in the village, who suggested he remarry a widow who had a daughter, named Peony, who was about Pear Blossom’s age. Pear Blossom’s father remarried the widow who Pear Blossom referred to as Omoni, the Korean word for mother, but unfortunately for Pear Blossom her new mother and sister were very unkind.

Jealous of her beauty, Omoni forced Pear Blossom to do all the cooking, cleaning, and washing and as time passed Pear Blossom’s father grew weaker. In his weakened state, Omoni and Peony forced Pear Blossom into servitude, dressing her in rags and only referring to her as “pigling” (Climo, p. 16) but Pear Blossom’s beauty still radiated. Although taking pleasure in her subordination, Omoni plotted ways to permanently get rid of her beautiful step-daughter. One morning Omoni demanded Pear Blossom fill a broken jug with water, threatening to take her to market and sell her if she was unsuccessful in her task. A dismayed Pear Blossom asks, “will none in this world help me?” (Climo, p. 16) and suddenly a mysterious noise came from the jug. When she peered inside she saw a frog which hopped into the crack and used its body as a stopper, in which Pear Blossom successfully filled the jug without spilling a drop of water. When Omoni saw this water-filled jug she was in disbelief and accused Pear Blossom of trickery.

After Pear Blossom successfully completed her task, Omoni scattered a giant sack of rice all over the yard and demanded that Pear Blossom separate the husk from the rice kernels and threatened to ship her away to China if the task wasn’t completed by the time she returned. Magically, a flock of sparrows appeared and began separating the husk from the kernel and stacking the rice in a huge pile. When Omoni returned she was in disbelief and although Pear Blossom truthfully told her that the sparrows helped her, Omoni refused to believe her.

Pear Blossom’s village was hosting an upcoming festival and she was kept busy making a dress for Peony and a festival basket for her step-mother. Omoni said Pear Blossom may attend the festival if she finished weeding the rice patty, a task that would take weeks to complete. When Pear Blossom reached the rice patty a large black ox appeared and began eating the weeds at an alarming rate. Somehow none of the grass had been trampled and the festival basket her step-mother had given her was magically filled with fruit and other assorted treats.

While hurrying to the festival, a pebble became lodged in Pear Blossom’s shoe in which she took it off to remove the pebble. Pear Blossom then heard someone shout and saw a young magistrate, nobleman, being carried on a palanquin. She then accidentally dropped her sandal which caught the nobleman’s eye and he then saw the beautiful Pear Blossom hiding behind a tree and an already flustered Pear Blossom frighteningly ran away. Pear Blossom then arrived at the festival where she watched the different acrobats and street performers until her step-mother and step-sister saw her and were in disbelief that she weeded the entire rice patty. At the same moment the magistrate on the palanquin appeared, demanding to find the girl who was missing a shoe. Peony shouted that it was pigling that was missing a shoe and Omoni eagerly waited assuming Pear Blossom was in trouble, but instead the magistrate said that he wished to marry the girl who owned the sandal. Omoni thought it was one of Pear Blossom’s tricks and immediately tried to persuade the magistrate to marry Peony, but he refused. Pear Blossom then slipped the sandal on her foot proving that the shoe did truly belong to her. In the springtime when the pear trees were blooming, the magistrate and Pear Blossom were happily wed in a grand ceremony and lived happily ever after.  


Textual Elements


Setting: The story takes place 300 years in the past in ancient Korea. The setting seems accurately portrayed through the characters' clothing, beliefs, and traditions.


  • Pear Blossom: The antagonist and "Cinderella" of this story.

  • Omoni: Pear Blossom's evil step-mother who is ultimately jealous of Pear Blossom's beauty and forces Pear Blossom to complete impossible tasks in hopes that she will fail so she can get rid of her. 

  • Peony: Pear Blossom's evil step-sister who is also jealous of Pear Blossom's beauty and teases Pear Blossom by calling her "pigling".

  • Magistrate: a young high-ranking government official who finds Pear Blossom's sandal and after seeing how beautiful she is becomes determined to find her after she runs away. 



Artistic Elements 


The illustrations by Ruth Heller are rich in color and mirrors the text‘s rich culture. In the beginning, she uses different hues to convey the changing of the seasons and uses vibrant colors to portray the excitement of the festival. Heller uses bold colors with some etching which leads me to think that she used a mixed media and technique of acrylic painting and pencil shading. The use of color is further seen in the borders which is derived from traditional Korean culture, extracted from patterns called “Tanchong” found in Korean temples. Heller also incorporates “Kirogi” which are the wedding ducks found in the end and symbolize fidelity.


Analysis and Critique


 The apparent message follows the theory of karma: good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Embedded messages support sexism, outer beauty, and stereotypes. The power is held by male characters such as the magistrate and the father who decides the marriage of the magistrate and Pear Blossom, which was based solely on outer beauty. Stereotypes are held up in the text through the dialogue where it resembles broken English. This is not a translated book, so the dialogue should be smooth and natural. I believe that this book is appropriate for ages five through twelve (P-I). Despite that the author is not a native Korean, Climo still accurately portrays the ancient Korean culture through diligent research. In the author's note, Climo dicusses the various methods of her research and further discusses how she inserted this information into the story. Authentic Korean vocabulary is purposely used in the text like the Korean word "omoni", which means mother, and "tokgabi" ,which means goblin, and not just sprinkled throughout the text as an attempt to overkill the text. There is also an illustrator's note in which Heller describes the extent of her research and how she inputted the information within the images like the style of clothing and the various patterns that can be found on Korean Temples. Overall, the book provides a beautiful represenation of the classic Cinderella tale from another culture.





Climo, Shirley. The Korean Cinderella. Illus.Ruth Heller. Mexico: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1993.




Will need to look up format for the type of source used.

Comments (1)

Chan Sik Jeong said

at 7:41 pm on Dec 14, 2009

Interesting! I remember reading this as a traditional fairy tale when I was a child

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