Book Review: “When Spring Comes to the DMZ” by Uk-Bae Lee

Between the heavily guarded borders of the countries of North and South Korea lies a demilitarized zone (or DMZ). This stretch of land has become a home, a refuge for all kinds of wildlife, and stands a waiting bridge of peace between two countries in turmoil.


South Korean author and illustrator, Uk-Bae Lee, originally wrote his book When Spring Comes to the DMZ as part of the “Peace Picture Book Project” organized by illustrators from Korea, China, and Japan.

This touching picture book is about the hope of peace amidst the ugliness of hate, told by showing how beauty and nature flourish between the heavily militarized borders of North and South Korea. The pictures are both beautiful and starkly unique, scenes of peaceful animals at play framed in barbed wire.

Not every children’s book needs or should be light or a half-joking lesson about sharing. I enjoy books that can assist me in bringing heavy topics down into understandable bites for children. I felt this book qualified for that. I loved how reading it with your child could open up discussions about peace, war, and the hope of reconciliation.

You can get your copy here.

Ordinary Moments

Our four year wedding anniversary was back in December. Now it’s June, almost half a year away from the date, and Timothy and I were driving out to Lancaster, PA.

We opted not to celebrate our anniversary in December, due to my inability to spend more than 30 minutes sitting upright. We tried again to take a trip during spring break, but the weather decided not to cooperate, dumping almost two feet of snow in an area that stretched across Jersey into Pennsylvania.

We’d already booked our hotel room, but the idea of becoming snowed in at a hotel 2.5 hours from home did not appeal to my nervous disposition. As the forecast darkened, Tim finally caved to my neuroses and gave the hotel a call.

“Tell them I’m pregnant,” I told him. This did the trick. He came up to me ten minutes later, grinning. They’d given us a full refund, accompanied with words along the lines of, “Oh no! We’re not having any babies here!”

I felt a little guilty, but honestly one of my fears was just that, irrespective of my still being in the second trimester.

Snow is creeping up to our second story windows. I’m trying to decide if the worsening cramps are my imagination or not. No. They’re coming regular, 5 minutes apart. I slowly turn from the bleak snow blanketed landscape towards Tim. “Honey…”

Our little one was still happily nestled in my womb when we drove out last Tuesday. The day opened a bit grey and rainy, a type of weather that I honestly don’t mind at all, but about half way down, just as the landscape was opening up with sprawling farms, the sky opened up too. It turned a brilliant shade of pool chalk blue, heavily decorated with clean cotton clouds.

It was perfect.

I’m currently working my way through an audiobook version of The Road to Little Dribbling by travel writer Bill Bryson. Among the many things I’m loving about the book, I’ve noticed that Bryson does not speak of using his cellphone, not even for excuseable things like maps. He always chooses to interact with his environment, asking strangers for directions, allowing himself to wander or follow crowds in hopes it will lead to something interesting, resorting to paper and pen to write his notes, and reading discarded magazines on the bus to pass the time.

I want to live this way more. I want to teach my technology drenched senses to be aware of the world around me. I want to see, to wonder, to lock away the beauty of the ordinary  that I would miss if I was staring down at a little plastic screen.

I’ve been to Lancaster many times with my parents. They vacation like a pack of rabid wolves. Two days there, and we’d manage to get in a show, all the buffets, a visit to the Tabernacle recreation, and hours and hours of shopping at stores and outlets. None of those things are bad in and of themselves, it was the excess. We did all the things every time, as though we’d flown ten hours overseas to a country we might never visit again. Family vacations always left me exhausted. Tim never understood why we did it. I didn’t know there was another way.

I’ve adopted more of Tim’s approach to vacation since we’ve been married. Trips aren’t planned for sensory overload or never-ending entertainment. They’re meant to get away and chill. Novel idea. We made minimal plans for this trip, and ended by discarding those. We just stopped running for a few days. We learned to breathe again.

On the way out, Tim looked so refreshed and happy. I asked him if he’d had a good time. He smiled at me and said, “I feel like our best vacations are the ones where we don’t do anything we couldn’t have done at home.” I think he’s right. Our time away was ordinary, and sweet.


The day after we returned, I’m kissing him goodbye for his last overnight refereeing assignment this summer. Two nights away. My chest is tight with already missing him. Hours later I’m crawling into bed, Little Baby kicking me softly to remind me I’m not really alone. I’m homesick. I’m homesick for a hotel room where it was just the three of us. I’m homesick for a two hour car ride where we’re both staring out the windows at deliciously green pastures, painted skies, and silvery silos glistening in warm sunlight. I’m homesick for those little things that just vanish when he’s not next to me, things I can’t get from a piece of plastic the size of my hand or from a darkened theatre blasting sights and sounds into my face.

I roll over and begin to cry quietly into my pillow. Little Baby protests this disruption with shoves and shuffles, until she’s once again settled into a cozy position in her ever tightening room of womb. I smile and lay a hand on her, while I tell myself that this is also the ordinary, and perhaps there is something special in this moment too.

Little Kid’s Lit

I find myself reading more and more children’s books as of late. It started when I moved in with my in-laws. They have two little ones, 5 and 10 years old. My siblings and I were all close together, so living and interacting with small children is a skill I’ve yet to master. When I learned they both loved books, I began to take children’s books out of the library for them. Sometimes, I’ll sit with them on the sofa and read a stack aloud. It’s a love language all three of us understand.12346561_10153295763692963_5493365539956720945_n

Mo Willems & that cheeky pigeon

Through this, I’ve discovered so many fun and quirky kids authors like Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Bonnie Becker, and Bob Shea. Their books can be laugh out loud hilarious, complete with running gags and adorable eccentric characters. I fell in love with them right along with the kids. It almost worried me how excited I became when we found a new book on the library shelf written by one of our favorite authors, or how sad I was when I realized we’d read all of the Elephant and Piggie books.

The more I branched out among the shelves of the children’s room, the more treasures I found. My parents mostly read us religious children’s books, so other than the odd Dr. Seuss I missed out on most of the classics, Harold and the Purple Crayon or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to name a few.

Another gift I’d missed out on was the illustrations. Personally, I lack any artistic skill whatsoever when it comes to urlpaints and sketches and the like. So when I pick up a book like  Jim Arnosky’s Every Autumn Comes the Bear and find inside lush watercolor autmn landscapes, I find myself doubly impressed.

But the craziest thing to me, was the poignancy of some of the themes in these books.

Writing a children’s book, a good children’s book, is a lot harder than I used to give it credit. If you’ve decided you want to talk about how to deal with the death of your closest friend, you have somewhere around 20 pages and 100 words. Brevity is key. It also requires simplicity in phrasing so that a child can understand the depth of your chosen theme. Making this work is a gift.

Sometimes I find a book so well done that I’m more choked up than the child I’m reading to. Like when I finished reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and my sister-in-law asked me why I was crying. I, of course, insisted I wasn’t then walked her up to bed, biting my lip and hugging the thin hardcover picture book lovingly against my chest.