The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Beautiful illustration and a clear story line describe this Korean legendary character, along with some of the complicated cultural mores of the early Yi Dynasty, its injustices, and several traditions and customs, without being intrusive or didactic. I was so taken by the strong illustration on the cover and the classic treatment of the cloud background that I sat down immediately and devoured the brilliantly told story. Notable are O’Brien’s skilled yet fresh illustrations and the clean layout, as well as her ability to convey the particularity of hard-to-describe Korean sensibility in her brushwork and color use. I also loved the I Ching hexagrams and careful historical accuracy, in particular the clever choice of King Sejong as the monarch of the time.

O’Brien brings such riches to this graphic novel: iconographic images of classic Korean art, accurate and warm depictions of architecture and scenery that it almost becomes a well-researched visual reference book of Korean culture and history. The author’s note at the end is equally revealing, as is her web site. Highly recommended for middle-schoolers and anyone interested in enduring stories and legends from other cultures and traditions.

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