Yesterday was Hangeul Day—the celebration of the Korean Alphabet! So, I’m thrilled to welcome Carol Kim, the author of King Sejong Invents an Alphabet, the fascinating story of how the Korean alphabet came to be.
Carol’s story of King Sejong reads like a fairytale. A young Korean prince, who adores reading, grows up to become a king, who is troubled by the illiteracy of his people. The rich and elite scholars can read, but most of his people have not learned the complicated Chinese characters used to convert Korean to the page. Knowing there will be opposition from the rich and elite, King Sejong creates a Korean alphabet in secret. Hangeul is born! For centuries, it continued to be opposed by the elite, but now is used and celebrated as the official alphabet of both North and South Korea.
Written by Carol Kim, illustrated by Cindy Kang
In 15th-century Korea, King Sejong was distressed. The complicated Chinese characters used for reading and writing meant only rich, educated people could read–and that was just the way they wanted it. But King Sejong thought all Koreans should be able to read and write, so he worked in secret for years to create a new Korean alphabet. King Sejong’s strong leadership and determination to bring equality to his country make his 600-year-old story as relevant as ever.
King Sejong Creates an Alphabet is Carol’s first picture book. She has a long list of nonfiction and chapter books, including the eight-book series Doggie Daycare, which feature siblings Shawn and Kat Choi and a pack of problematic pooches. Carol works as a copywriter and shares her business insights at Make a Living in Kidlit, where she blogs about everything from brainstorming ideas to using Twitter to the hard truth about how much children’s book authors make.
Carol grew up in California, but for the past 27 years has lived in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and dog, Daisy, who I am assured is not problematic at all. She loves travelling and cooking and helping encourage aspiring children’s writers.
And with that introduction, let’s turn things over to Carol to tell us What Was On her…
Hangeul Day Celebration: Well, before I started researching about King Sejong and Hangeul, I had no idea there was a Hangeul Day! It is actually a national holiday in South Korea. People even get the day off of work! That’s how important King Sejong and his invention is to the Korean people. (In North Korea, Hangeul Day is celebrated as well, but on January 15).
And I just discovered that California passed a law in 2019 to dedicate October 9 as Hangeul Day as well!
In Korea, many people spend the holiday visiting the King Sejong Museum in Seoul, which is located underneath the giant statue of King Sejong.
As for me, one very appropriate way to celebrate the day is to work on learning Hangeul and Korean. I actually never learned to speak or write the Korean language—which I have major regrets about now. But it’s never too late to learn, right?
Her list of favorite Hangeul Characters: One of the very cool things about Hangeul is that King Sejong came up with the shape of the letters by basing them on the placement of the tongue and mouth when making the different sounds. For example, the letter for the sound of “n” is based on how the tongue touches the roof of the inside of your mouth.
But my favorites are the vowels. They are very symbolic, which I love. Three symbols make up the vowels, o, — , and |. They represent the sky (or heavens), the earth, and a person.
Mind as she researched King Sejong: I was so impressed with King Sejong the more I learned about him. He was such a forward-thinking individual, and in my opinion, always had the future of his country in mind, which shaped his leadership approach. He believed in treating all people with compassion, and believed that by improving the lives of all, even the lowliest peasant, the entire country would benefit. He was right about that!
There’s so much more that could be shared about King Sejong and his accomplishments. A whole series of books could be written about him! Which I would love to do, but you know how it is—so many ideas! So little time!
Hints for Learning Hangeul: One of the remarkable things about Hangeul is that it is actually pretty easy to learn. You can find so many lessons online that promise to teach it to you in 30 minutes—or even less! One reason it is easier than other alphabets is each character essentially has only one sound. That helps eliminate a lot of confusion—such as the English alphabet where one letter can represent more than one sound. This was very deliberate on King Sejong’s part—he wanted to create an alphabet that “a wise man can learn in one morning…and a fool can learn in ten days.”
Favorite Korean Dish: Oh, do I have to pick just one?
On the occasions when I visit my family in California, we will often go out to a Korean barbeque restaurant. We always order kalbi, which is a dish of marinated beef short ribs cut crosswise into long strips with the bone intact. You cook it right on the table on a grill—and it is delicious! I don’t eat as much beef as I used to, but I will always eat kalbi when given the chance!
Favorite Recipe to Share: While there are lots of delicious Korean dishes that are not difficult to make, my favorite one to share is japchae, because almost everyone loves it! It’s a dish of sweet potato glass noodles mixed together with lots of vegetables and meat (which can easily be left out), seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and some sugar. You can follow a more authentic recipe (which is admittedly more time consuming) or take some shortcuts (raises hand!)—but it’s hard to mess it up!
Here’s a link to a recipe I’ve used before: https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/japchae
Most Common Copywriting Advice: This advice really applies to any writing where you are trying to capture the reader’s attention (and is there any other kind of writing?)—try to tell a story. Whether you are writing about a business, their services, or a product, if you can weave in some storytelling, it has a much better chance of resonating with an audience. Which makes being a writer of children’s stories very helpful for being an effective copywriter!
Mind Today: My journey toward becoming a published children’s book author, which has culminated in the release of King Sejong’s story as my first trade publication, had long periods of incubation, especially back in my younger days. Looking back, this was largely due to fear—mostly fear of judgement and fear of failure. It took me a long time to find the courage to even start trying to write for kids.
But now that I’ve reached this amazing milestone, I want to tell the world that they need to stop letting fear keep them from pursuing their dreams! It has been the most transformative experience in my life, and I believe everyone should have this experience as well! I don’t mean everyone should try to write children’s books (but if that’s your jam, please go for it!). I’m talking about going after any dream you hold in your heart, particularly the longing for creative expression. I believe that when you start taking steps to explore what is possible, you will open up your world in ways you never could have imagined.
It’s a message I try very hard to share with my children as well. But I think it’s something everyone needs to hear.
Thank you so much, Carol! I can relate to fear holding one back. I was definitely scared of writing in the early days. At one point, my computer was the most frightening thing in the house. It still can be sometimes. But now I know how to get around it. I write in longhand. Anyway, this is all a long way of saying, thank you for your message about exploring what is possible. You’re right that everyone needs to hear it. I know that I do. So, thank you.
You can stay in contact with Carol Kim at carolkimbooks.com, at makingalivinginkidlit.com, at ckimwrite.com, on Twitter @CKimWrite4Kids, on Instagram @CKimWrite4Kinds, on Facebook @CarolKimWriter and on TikTok at @CKimWrite4Kids.
If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit sandranickel.com.