Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Juna and Hector are best friends as well as apartment neighbors. They share regular “kimchi jar adventures,” filling the large, clear jar with “colorful rocks and small bugs.” One day, Hector is no longer with his grandmother downstairs; while Juna was out, Hector left to live with his parents “in a big house far away,” and wasn’t even able to say good-bye.
Juna, understandably, “was very sad.” Her big brother Minho tries his best to help Juna feel less lonely; he fills her empty kimchi jar first with a fish, then a plant, then a cricket. Each new jar resident inspires a fantastical overnight adventure as Juna sleeps – and yet, as much fun as she has, her reaction never wavers: “I wish Hector was here.” On the third night, Juna is able to climb onto the cricket’s back and travel exactly to “far away,” right outside Hector’s window. There she finds her slumbering best friend, and on his bedside she recognizes the kimchi jar she had given him. “Hector looked like he was having happy dreams.” Reassured, Juna is able to say goodbye and return home.
By the morning, the cricket has outgrown the jar, and again, Juna’s jar is empty. But what she finds next at the park brings the promise of many adventures to come.
Juna’s Jar won Lee & Low’s New Voices Award in 2010 and hit shelves earlier this year. Jane Bahk, a former teacher, knows just how to tell a story so kids will listen; her experience as an award-winning television writer/producer ensures that her story is accessible and dramatic both. Veteran illustrator Felicia Hoshino’s gentle art perfectly enhances Bahk’s sincere, simple prose, especially capturing Juna’s many expressions, from her sorrow as Hector’s grandmother holds her in a soothing hug, to her adoration at the new fish her brother helps bring home, to her joyous upside-down cavorting in the overnight rain forest, to her poignant relief on Hector’s windowsill as she whispers her final farewell. Hoshino’s palette of predominantly soothing greens and browns, with splashes of adventurous purple, fill each double-page spread with wonder and discovery … and always the hint of something more.
Perhaps one of life’s most difficult first lessons is separation from a best friend – not that the loss is easy at any age. Here’s a promising antidote to that overwhelming sadness. Who knew an empty kimchi jar could mend forlorn broken hearts … go ahead, let Juna show you how.