Christine still remembers the butterflies in the pit of her stomach as she performed traditional Korean fan dances as a 12-year-old growing up in Southern California. She never dreamed that over 30 years later, she would be channeling her inner fan dancer to write Hannah’s story. Christine is a second generation Korean American wife and mother of two, living in San Diego.
Christine loves telling stories for a living, which started with a 15-year career in TV news and continues today in public relations. She is the winner of six news Emmys and multiple PR awards. Christine was always an avid reader, but wished there were more Asian American book characters she could relate to (besides Claudia Kishi from The Babysitter’s Club). So she decided to create her own! Christine also enjoys singing karaoke, photography, and baking.
This is the first book collaboration for Christine and her mother, Jung Lin Park. Learn more at www.christinepaik.com
… I wanted to honor their experiences so that their sacrifice and the hardships they endured are not forgotten or in vain.
Christine, your book is a beautiful story celebrating and honoring the Asian American experience. It captures the unique feeling many of us have growing up between two cultures. Can you tell us what inspired you to write The Girl in the Gold Dress?
There are many components of my life and upbringing as a Korean American, as well as my family history and my husband's family history woven into this book. Like the main character Hannah, I performed Korean fan dances as a child. I remember the tension, the uncertainty, and embarrassment of not knowing whether other kids would laugh and make fun of it or actually appreciate a culture different from theirs. My husband and I also remember hearing stories from our fathers and grandmothers about escaping from North Korea during the Korean War. They didn't speak much about their experiences because I think they felt that such difficult and sad times should not be relived. But I wanted to honor their experiences so that their sacrifice and the hardships they endured are not forgotten or in vain.
But really, the true inspiration for this book was a recent trip to South Korea with my two children, Sydney and Isaiah. We visited the old neighborhood in Seoul where their grandfather (my husband's father) grew up. We went to the same marketplace where my husband's grandmother once sold fabrics for hanboks, and my daughter got to pick out a hanbok there. It was such a special, meaningful moment. After we returned, I wanted to craft a story that connected her hanbok to her family history.
I love that this book is a collaboration for you and your mother, Jung Lin Park, who is the illustrator. What was the experience like for you?
It was a dream come true! My mom studied art and painting in college at Ewha University in South Korea but couldn't afford tuition, so she had to drop out. She got married and immigrated to the United States in the 1970's. She had to put her artistic aspirations aside to raise three children and pursue the American dream as a small business owner. Knowing how talented she was as an artist, it was my hope to someday collaborate with her on a children's picture book to showcase her art and share it with others, like it was meant to be!
You began your professional career in TV and public relations, what made you decide to write children’s books?
I guess once a storyteller, always a storyteller! As both a TV journalist and current PR professional, my job and passion is to tell other people's stories. I have always been curious about people - what makes them the way they are, what motivates them to achieve extraordinary things, what might have happened in their past to shape their future? As a child, I was a voracious reader, and my favorite part of the week was a trip to the public library. But there were never any books with kids that looked like me growing up nor any that had similar experiences. I think that's why I latched on to Claudia Kishi in the Babysitters Club series. She is the only Asian American figure in children's literature that I could somewhat relate to. The thing is, it wasn't much different for my daughter when she was growing up either. We hadn't made much progress from one generation to the next. That's why I decided to write my own book!
Are there any discussion questions, curriculum, videos, or other materials that would help readers engage with your picture books?
Yes! I created downloadable/printable resources for activities and discussion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iEUxrt5QB6SI9hsJ2Qj_SmfNrfniYRhW/view
You can also view a few videos here as well: https://www.christinepaik.com/resources
What do you find to be the most difficult part of creating children’s books today and what is the most rewarding?
The most difficult part of creating a children's book today is the marketing and selling by far. It is all-consuming, frustrating, and difficult, especially as an independent author. For example, I felt like I followed all of Amazon's rules and tips to ensure a smooth launch, and still my hard cover books were not available to customers when they said they would be and always "out of stock."
The most rewarding part is the impact I'm having on children who feel seen and empowered because of this book. After one of my author visits, a teacher shared this story: "A 3rd grade student came from Korea about 5 weeks ago and refused to speak at all in class or volunteer. But right after your webinar she raised her hand for the first time to share that she has a hanbok too! Tears! She is going to wear her hanbok this weekend and share pictures with the class on Monday."
Are you working on anything now? What’s next for you?
I'm not sure - I feel like I have more stories to tell. I have an oral history from my husband's aunt depicting in great detail what it was like to be a child growing up during the Korean War. I feel like it lends itself to a possible chapter book. I don't know if my family is ready for another publishing journey yet, though ha!
What is your favorite childhood book?
Charlotte's Web! It got me every time! Literally sobbing, ugly cry. Hahah! I wasn't even a big animal person, but there's something about that unconditional, sacrificial love that hits the heart.
by Christine Paik and Jung Lin Park
Hannah's Korean name literally means "Gold Dress," so why doesn't she want to be seen wearing her gold hanbok dress? 10-year-old Hannah is facing a big performance for her school's talent show. The trouble is, she's ashamed of her dress, the dance, even the music - they're too different, too Korean! What if everyone makes fun of her? Will Hannah be brave enough to perform, or will she run off stage like she did at rehearsal? First, she must learn about the gold dress she's wearing and its mysterious connection to her name and her family's past in Korea: starting with a desperate escape from war and a secret wish hidden for decades in an envelope. Can Hannah make that wish finally come true? In this touching children's story that spans four generations, a Korean American girl overcomes her embarrassment of her heritage to step forward with pride and share her culture with others.