Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Linda Sue Park

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "A Perfect Image"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Linda Sue Park, author of Seesaw Girls, When My Name Was Keoko, and the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard. Ms. Park's piece in Our White House, titled "A Perfect Image," is about her experience at the White House during the National Book Festival; she invited her parents, who recalled from their teenagehood in Korea the story of President Truman's piano breaking through the floor of a study. Here's an excerpt:

My parents were delighted to see a grand piano in the Entrance Hall. It was not the Truman Steinway...but it seemed to have been plucked straight from their childhood memories of the White House.

I went to get coffee. From across the room, I saw my parents talking with Mrs. Putin.

My parents do not speak Russian. To my knowledge, Mrs. Putin does not speak Korean. How I wish I could have heard that conversation, the English flavored heavily with the spice and salt of their native languages.

We asked Ms. Park a few questions about her piece:

NCBLA: Did you know the story of the Truman piano before going to the National Book Festival?
LSP: No. I didn't know the story until I set about writing the piece for the book. I had been asked to write something set during the time of the Korean War, so I called my parents and interviewed them.

NCBLA: What did your parents say about the experience afterward? Do you know what they said to Mrs. Putin?
LSP: My parents are my biggest fans--they're always very supportive and enthusiastic about my work. One of the nicest things about my career is that I'm sometimes able to take them along for the ride. This was one of those occasions: Now they can (and do) brag that they've had breakfast at the White House! And no, I don't know what they said to Mrs. Putin; I'm guessing it was probably small talk. But just the idea of my parents being able to talk to the First Lady of Russia--that was a thrill for me.

NCBLA: If you could have a tea party with a few past presidents, whom would you choose and why? What kind of food would you eat?
LSP: Bill Clinton and Teddy Roosevelt, because I think they would be a lot of fun and interesting to talk to. But for those two, I'd suggest a barbecue rather than a tea party. And it would be classic: ribs, corn on the cob, watermelon, iced tea and beer, maybe some pie. Food that you have to eat with your hands is almost always conducive to good conversation. And messy food is a great equalizer: When everyone has barbecue sauce on their hands and faces, things are just plain friendlier. Could we invite Mr. Obama too?

NCBLA: If you could pick any job in the White House, what would it be?
LSP: Menu planner. And Presidential Family Librarian. I'd love to talk books with the President and Mrs. Obama, and especially Malia and Sasha!

NCBLA: Your story reflects upon the cultural diversity of the United States; President Obama himself is a symbol of the same. How do you think President Obama will change the story of the presidency? What do you think or hope people will write about him in the future?
LSP: Of course like millions of other Americans, I have great hopes for Mr. Obama's presidency. But I'm feeling cautious and concerned, too, because I know he can't do everything, and he can't do it alone. He'll need help...from every last one of us. Will people step up and do what they can to help? Or will they sit back and wait for him to produce miracles? Because that wouldn't be fair to him or anyone else. But whatever he accomplishes in the next four or--hopefully!--eight years, the symbolism of his presidency is quite simply awesome. I get teary thinking about it: I find it deeply inspiring that I got to witness and participate in the election of the first American president of color. May there be many more. And now, if I can just hang around long enough to see the first woman elected president...

For more information about Ms. Park, please read her NCBLA bio or visit her website.

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