Uk-Bae Lee, whose children’s book When Spring Comes to the DMZ received the coveted Batchelder Honor Book award from the American Library Association, responds to two young readers worried about their grandparents during the coronavirus pandemic.
April 20, 2020
Dear Mr. Lee,
Thank you for writing and illustrating your book When Spring Comes to the DMZ. We have enjoyed it a lot.
Just before Easter, some ducklings hatched in our barn, where we also keep ponies and chickens. It was amazing to see the little ducklings pop out of their eggs.
In our fish tank there is a baby fish. It hatched out if its egg inside its mother’s mouth. It hides in a fake plant and swims out to eat when it is safe.
These signs of new life cheered us up in a difficult time. We hope you and your family have been healthy during the pandemic. We worry about our grandparents in South Korea. They live far away and we can’t visit them at the moment. How do you love someone when you can’t be with them?
We are looking forward to the day when the isolation ends and we can be together again. That will be like the moment when the gates to the DMZ open in your book. Won’t that be a wonderful time?
Sanha Won (ten years old)
Changho Won (eight years old)
May 1, 2020
Dear Sanha and Changho,
Have you been well these days? I hesitate to ask because the whole world is going through a tough time. I’ll ask anyway. I am well – thanks for your thought and concern.
I was glad to receive your letter and enjoyed it very much. I feel close to you, like friendly kids from next door, even though we have never met and have only exchanged letters.
How did you feel when the ducklings and baby fish were born? Actually, I have never seen a duckling or a fish hatch. But I do remember how special it was to see puppies born, and to watch chicks hatch once – maybe you felt like that.
Regarding the coronavirus, the situation in South Korea has improved a lot and people are cautiously returning to their daily lives. Schools are preparing to reopen partially.
Last week my parents both had birthdays. We could not get together as a family, so we had to congratulate them on the phone and send gifts by mail. My parents loved the phone call but could not help being sad because they could not meet their beloved family.
Looking out the window it is truly spring with trees sending out new shoots and blooming flowers, yet I wake up each day to the sad reality that people are still living in fear and are not able to enjoy the bright spring.
You ask, “How do you love someone when you can’t be with them?” I think that love will not grow cold even though people cannot meet freely. It could be that people’s longing to meet and show love to each other will grow even greater as this time continues. Yet that could change if we cannot meet each other for so long that our memories of each other fade. So your phone calls and letters can encourage your grandparents who are sad because they cannot see your face.
Sanha and Changho, I am sorry that we grown-ups will leave this world to you with so many problems. It is us grown-ups’ fault that the whole world is in great chaos. People around the world, because we have loved convenient and new things, have wasted the earth’s limited resources. In the process, we have destroyed much of nature. The global economy that provides these things also caused the pandemic to spread so widely and quickly.
Eventually, a vaccine for the coronavirus might be developed, but I am worried that other viruses might evolve and cause problems. However, I believe we will find solutions for this crisis if we reflect on our wrongdoings and think together about what kind of world we will build in the future.
Like you, I am looking forward eagerly to the time when all people can overcome the visible and invisible barriers and meet freely.
Goodbye for now and stay well.