Why I Needed to See Pippa Park on the Shelves

May 17, 2024 by Erin Yun

"All children deserve to see themselves represented in the literature they read."

The left of the image shows Erin Yun, author of Pippa Park, in an orange picture frame. To the right of her in a blue picture frame, is a younger picture of her as a child dressed in pink and orange.


As a kid, I was a voracious reader. Fantasy, realistic fiction, thrillers, mysteries, I read them all. Each week, I would beg my parents to take me to the local library, and each time I would leave with a stack of books almost as tall as me. Despite this, it wasn’t until college that I found books with Korean protagonists. I had moved into a wider pool of novels, adding translations and adult literature to the mix. When I was younger, I just didn’t see that many middle-grade or young adult books with Korean leads.

According to a study by Sarah Park Dahlen from 2015 in School Library Journal, only 3.3% of children’s literature depicted Asian characters, and books featuring all people of color combined only made up 14%. A later study by Dahlen from 2018 reported, the number of books with Asian characters grew to 7%. Even with that increase, children’s books about white characters were still 50% of the pool.1


I think about these statistics often. I’m half-Korean and half-white. When I wrote books as a kid, some of the stories had white protagonists and some had Asian ones, but I didn’t think too much about it. It wasn’t until I started reading more books with Korean characters as an adult that I realized what a literary lack there had been in my childhood. Every time I read a new book about a Korean character, I got excited all over again because there were so many tiny details I could connect with—from the food to pop culture references to hearing characters speak Korean. When I wrote Pippa Park Raises Her Game, I knew that I wanted the main character to be Korean because I knew a younger version of myself would have appreciated it and because all children deserve to see themselves represented in the literature they read.

Increasing diversity in children’s publishing is a momentous task, and there is a lot of work ahead of us. The sky is the limit in terms of increasing the number of diverse books that exist. But I find glimpses of hope when reading recent children's books with Korean characters. I look at my bookshelf now and see novels I would have snapped up as a kid like Jessica Kim’s Stand Up, Yumi Chung! and Linda Sue Park's Prairie Lotus. I hope my reading list only grows as the number of published diverse children's books grows too.


1. https://www.slj.com/story/an-updated-look-at-diversity-in-childrens-books