Sep 12

Book Review: Waiting for Mummy

Waiting for Mummy by Tae-Jun Lee

Summary (Wilkins Farago)

Set in Korea in the 1930s (a time of poverty, danger and subjugation under Japanese rule), Waiting for Mummy is a deceptively straightforward story of a young child waiting at a tram stop for his mother.

Trams come and go, people alight, yet her devoted son waits stoically and patiently, even as a snowstorm gathers.

Will Mummy ever return? The reader must be as patient as the child, as the story is sub¬tly resolved—for those looking closely—in the final magical illustration.

A new edition of a story by one of Korea’s best-loved children’s writers, Waiting for Mummy has been a publishing sensation in Korea since its re-release with Dong Sung Kim’s new illustrations in late 2004.


I recently launched a question into the Twitterverse, asking people to recommend books that represent different cultures through their stories and illustrations. The very amazing @VaVeros (Vassiliki Veros), my own personal Twitter Librarian, recommended some wonderful books including this amazing Korean story.

Now, in Vassiliki’s defence, I should mention that she did warn me that this story is very sad. I’m assuming that she used the words ‘very sad’ instead of ‘heart-wrenchingly traumatic’ because of Twitter’s 140 character limit, because ‘very sad’ doesn’t even begin to describe the emotion conveyed by the incredibly beautiful illustrations and touching story.

At the end of the story, the gorgeous little boy is at the bus stop, in a blizzard, waiting for his mother who may never return. That’s right a small child is left standing in he snow waiting for his mother, quite possibly forever. I frantically searched for signs of missing pages when I reached the end of the story, sure that the author wouldn’t leave me despairing for this young child, but to no avail. There were no more pages. The story ends on the desolate image of the young child in the snow, waiting.

It wasn’t until I searched the publisher’s website that I found the reference to the resolution of the story, which is indeed present in the final illustration. In my emotional distress I had missed the small alteration to the image which is a reflection of the first illustration of the book.

This book is beautiful and it is certainly likely to get a discussion going, if only about how the author and illustrator connect so powerfully with our emotions. Once you are aware of the significant detail in the final illustration the story is far less traumatic, but it still impacts on a very emotional level. With the final image, the book is a beautiful story to share with children. Without it, you’ll need a large box of tissues and quite possibly counselling and children with any kind of separation or anxiety issues should stay well away.

Review Copy Details
Title: Waiting for Mummy
Author: Tae-Jun Lee
Illustrator: Dong-Sung Kim
Publisher: Wilkins Farago, 2006
Note: Original text published in Korea in 1938
Genre: Picture book

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1 ping

  1. Susan, the Book Chook

    It sounds beautiful, but I like my messages crystal clear, so I’m not sure how I’d feel about the resolution being “hidden”.
    .-= Susan, the Book Chook´s last blog ..Book Review- Adventures with Grandpa =-.

    1. Susan

      I didn’t discover the ‘ending’ until 2 weeks after I’d read the book. Very stressful. Poor Meredith (@thinkthinkers) was also traumatised when I showed the book to her. I’m glad that I now know how it ends, but I can’t shake my initial reaction.

      Because parents often pick up picture books for children without really looking at them, my concern with this one would be that young children wouldn’t notice the ending either and would be left with the image of the little boy waiting for his mother who never comes home.

      This illustrator was brought in for the new english version of this book. I’m curious whether the original illustrator ended the book in the same way. The illustrations are beautiful though and I’m still tempted to buy the book simply to have the pictures here to enjoy.

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