From We Need Diverse Books co-founder, Ellen Oh, Finding Junie Kim is a powerful and important middle grade book that focuses on family, hope, and survival, all while delivering a punch. Based on the author’s own family stories from the Korean War, this is an eye-opening and candid look at a piece of history that is underrepresented in both the middle grade and young adult genre.
Finding Junie Kim follows our young protagonist, Junie, who struggles with her own demons, friendship issues, and acts of racism in her school. She is then assigned an oral history project, for which she interviews her grandparents and learns about their struggles and experiences growing up during the Korean War. Taking inspiration from her grandparents’ courageous stories, Junie finds ways to overcome her own personal struggles and make changes in the world around her. The story beautifully connects the trauma of war with modern hate crimes, while also including conversations around bullying, depression, & friendship dynamics. It does all of this with sensitivity and without diminishing any of the topics, keeping it relatable and suitable for a middle school audience.
Finding Junie Kim was a very insightful middle grade novel and would make a great mentor text for many reasons. The book is split into sections told in part realistic fiction from Junie’s first-person perspective and in third-person historical fiction from both of her grandparents. It is also split into time periods, with different sections telling the stories from different years, which would lend well to practices around both framing a story and discussing point of view. The grandparents’ interviews are a wonderful way to provide many details about the historical setting that many students may not have much background information in and would make a great mentor text for how to weave background information throughout a story. Finding Junie Kim would also make an excellent class read aloud or book club book, as it is a fitting example of a window/mirror/sliding glass door book that any student or adult alike can learn from. Middle grade students need this book for many reasons, and I am so looking forward to all the ways I will incorporate it into my classroom.
Lauren Sieben is a Grade 8 ELA teacher at Perth-Andover Middle School. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.