Choi, Yangsook. (2009). Peach Heaven. New York: Francis Foster Books.
2. PLOT SUMMARY
One day in a Korean town in the Puchon region in August 1976, it was so stormy that it rained peaches carried down from the mountain orchards. The village they arrive at rarely buys peaches because they are too expensive. Yansook Choi writes about this real-life experience as she finally gets to eat peaches to her heart’s content, only to feel worried later that night about the farmers whose crops have been so damaged. The children decide to make it up to the farmers by collecting what remains of the peaches and hauling them back up the mountain to the orchards.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
The words of this picture book are simple and direct, matching the plot of this story that is simple, but as sweet as the peaches in it. The art is soft and direct as well, with watercolor and possible pencil outlines. At the beginning of the story, it is raining and raining. The close up of Yangsook clearly shows her boredom and dissatisfaction in the way her head is leaning over, supported by her palm. The image also shows her cultural heritage authentically and respectfully, with an accurate skin color and dark hair pulled back in two braids.
When her little brother pulls her and their grandmother outside to see what is falling from the sky, readers get a view of the traditional dress of Korea, worn by the grandmother, as well as contemporary clothing worn by the children and parents. The girl, Yangsook, is not passive, but is the one who ventures out into the stream to see what is falling from the sky. By having modern clothing and a strong, active female character with leadership skills (she knocks on doors and leads the other children to return the peaches), the book transcends stereotypes, as described in our class notes by Dr. Vardell.
The home shows authentic roofs and doors, with Korean written along two of the columns visible in the illustration. The result is a solid grounding in the setting, as readers can thoroughly visualize where these events are happening. The setting is important, because the peach orchards in Puchon are central to the plot. One particularly great image is painted from the perspective of the roof, close up on the peaches rolling down it, with Yangsook shown small below, looking up.
The language is plain with just a few metaphors or similes, but still captures the emotions of the child narrator: “I got closer and couldn’t believe my eyes. Beautiful ripe peaches were pouring over the rooftops!” and “The farmers had worked so hard to grow the perfect peaches. I couldn’t sleep that night. Then I had an idea.” The simplicity of the text and images makes this a great read-aloud for younger children. It is also a great way to expose them to appropriate, authentic Asian Pacific literature.
Yangsook Choi is a credible author for this story. She grew up in Korea until she was 24, when she came to the United States to study art. Not only was she born in Korea, but she is writing about an actual event that happened to her while she lived there. The author’s note in the back addresses the day it rained peaches as well as the symbolism of the peach as a fruit that brings peace and is a defense against evil. In the story, Yangsook sees heaven as a place full of peaches, and has a calendar that even shows a peach orchard full of happy children. But she loves peaches not just because they taste sweet. In Korean mythology, “the peach is regarded as a magic fruit that brings a long and happy life.” Once a reader understands that, having peaches rain down upon their village takes on a whole new meaning.
The author’s note does not state if she and her friends really brought the fruit back to the farmers, but the fact that she does so in the story brings a strong symmetry to the plot: she sees heaven as a place full of peaches; she has never had enough peaches because she is poor; she enjoys a day of eating peaches; she realizes that the peaches really belong to the farmers; she makes the right choice to help return them to their rightful owners. Young children will be able to identify with and appreciate the justice in this story. They have a very strong sense of what is fair, and Yangsook makes a fair choice.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
“K-Gr. 2. Based on a 1976 incident from Choi's childhood, this story is set in the Punchon [sic] region of Korea, known for its magnificent peaches. Here, young Yangsook dreams of frolicking in a beautiful peach orchard, because even though the trees surround her, the fruit is too expensive for her family. Then one furiously stormy day, Yangsook and her grandmother are startled by thuds on the roof: the rain is carrying peaches down from the mountain orchards. Catching them in her umbrella, Yangsook eats to her heart's content. Then she starts worrying about the farmers who are losing their crops. The story is apparently true up to this point, but the author's note doesn't state whether Yangsook and her friends really gathered peaches and returned them to the farmers, even using yarn to hang some back on the trees. The colored-pencil artwork, single- and double-page spreads, has an appealing simplicity, though the figures are somewhat stiff. Unusual perspectives and close-ups add interest to the pictures, which use lots of greens and browns. For larger libraries, or those serving Korean communities.” Booklist March 1, 2005.
“Using watercolor washes in hues of yellow, blue-gray, brown and green, Choi (Nim and the War Effort) illustrates a childhood memory, the day in 1976 when the sky rained peaches in her hometown of Puchon, South Korea. During endless rainy days that August, young Yangsook avoids her homework by staring at what she calls “a picture of heaven,” a golden peach orchard filled with children. One afternoon, the streets flood, and objects larger than hailstones pour down. A full-bleed spread shows the heroine wading in knee-high water while her grandmother and brother watch from the porch; in a subsequent spread, Yangshook [sic] bites into a succulent peach, her overturned umbrella filled with the fruit while more float by. “We... feasted on peaches until we could eat no more. I forgot about the rain. I was in peach heaven.” That night, however, Yangshook [sic] could not sleep, thinking about the farmers who had lost their crops, and she and the other children find a way to aid the distressed farmers. Architectural details such as gray roof shingles, doors made of vertical wooden slats opening to minimally furnished rooms, and cultural details (children and parents wear contemporary clothes, while Grandma wears a traditional robe) capture the ambience [sic] of a small Korean town. Choi’s vivid recollection of one extraordinary day takes on the timeless feel of a classic tale. Ages 4-8.”-PW Annex Reviews, June 27, 2005.
- Read another book by Yangsook Choi, such as The Name Jar, which addresses what it is like to be a Korean immigrant in America as a child (part of the 1.5 Generation).
- Read informational books about Korean culture and look for Korean cultural markers in Peach Heaven.
- Eat peaches or make peach-based dishes to eat while reading the story.
- Turn the story into a play. Create several narrators, so more students can participate beyond just the final scene.
- Look for peaches having special importance in other cultures. In Japan, Momotaro, a semi-historical hero, was born from inside a huge peach. He is called “Peach Boy” in his many adventures.
6. PERSONAL REACTIONS
The book is a nice, gentle story. It does not have a high action, drama or humor, but it is a solid story that a younger audience will enjoy. It is not one I feel compelled to add to my personal collection, but I would want it in an elementary library’s collection for sure.
Choi, Yangsook. (2003.) The Name Jar. St. Louis, MO: Turtleback books.
Vardell, Sylvia. (2008.) “Overview” Culture 5 Pacific Asian American Lit Texas Woman’s University. Blackboard class LS 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. Web. Accessed November 5, 2013.