BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha [in Shelf Awareness]

Being a child in the adult world presents all sorts of challenges, but size is perhaps the most obvious, immediate hurdle. For young Soe-In, the “once upon a time”-hero in Hanna Cha’s delightful debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, her smallness even determined her name: Soe-In means “tiny person.” She lived “in a large village, between two tall mountains,” where the villagers “often competed to see who was the strongest and loudest.” They would even confidently boast that “they were bigger and more fearless than the spirit tiger rumored to protect the surrounding mountains and forest.” Although Soe-In took four steps to others’ two and needed three armfuls while others used a single hand, her size never stopped her. Instead, she “stud[ied] the other villagers and complet[ed] each task in her own way,” even when people pointed and laughed at her earnest efforts.

And then the darkness came: “One morning, the villagers woke up to find the sky was filled with thick black smoke and red embers … And the sun was nowhere to be seen.” The chieftain’s request for a volunteer to trek “into the mountains and see what had made the sun disappear” garners only silence. For all the villagers’ previous bravado, Soe-In alone speaks up: “Sir, I will go.” Though she’s met with a cacophony of doubting resistance, Soe-In’s tenacity never wavers. She packs her pink bojagi (traditional wrapping scarf) and bravely ventures forth into “the forest where the smoke was the thickest, the hissing sparks were the hottest, and the thunder was the loudest.” Nothing stops her until she’s eye-to-eye with the spirit tiger himself. Noticing his heavy tears and great distress, Soe-In cleverly deduces how to help him – she knows better than any not to let the outside distract from what’s on the inside – and, as a result, restores the light for all.

Korean American author/artist Cha explains in her author’s note that she drew from her cultural history, celebrating the “tigers [that] constantly appeared in Korean stories and images, sometimes as deities, sometimes as threats.” Cha’s tiger is clearly both, though not without a bit of humorous cheek: his foolhardy arrogance fuels his greedy attempt to “rule the sky,” landing him in a fiery situation that threatens the very subjects he’s supposed to protect. As artist, the Rhode Island School of Design-trained Cha seems to attenuate the tiger’s spirit: while all her richly hued spreads swirl with inviting action, her tiger-themed panels especially burst forth in flaming swaths of gold, orange, brown and black strokes, as if the tiger’s energy (and Soe-In’s empathic ingenuity) can hardly be contained on the printed page. As Soe-In’s stature increases, Cha’s message is clear: growing from the smallest into the “greatest of them all” has little to do with outward size, and everything to do with courage, cleverness, and genuine caring.

Shelf Talker: Hanna Cha draws on her Korean heritage in Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, in which size matters little to a tiny girl who saves her village with her thoughtful ingenuity.

Review: “Children’s Review,” Shelf Awareness Pro, October 16, 2019

Readers: Children

Published: 2019


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