The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale

Summary: This classic folktale retold by author and illustrator Yumi Heo is about two very disobedient frogs. Their mother is constantly trying to teach them to be better frogs and to clean up after themselves, but they just don’t listen. However, one day, the mother dies and the children immediately regret never listening to her. They bury her where she wanted to be buried near the stream. But soon it started to rain heavily for days and the frogs constantly cried “GAE GUL! GAI GUL!” in hopes that their mothers grave would not be washed away.

Cultural Markers: Author and illustrator Yumi Heo was born and raised in Korea, and folktales play a huge role in Asian culture as stories young children grow up with to become better people and learn valuable life lessons, so she certainly heard this folktale at a very young age.  The captivating illustrations give this book an authentic Korean presentation. The vibrant illustrations are drawn in a way that similar to that of traditional Korean art, to keep up with the fact that this is actually a very old folktale simply re-imagined by Yumi Heo. In the very last page of the book, we have the only illustration of a person, and it is of a young boy that seems to be dressed in modern clothes and is eating an ice cream cone. A representation of young Korean children today so they see themselves represented in the folklore. At the end of the story, it is said that “children who don’t listen to their mother are called chung-gaeguri, or green frogs,” because of the two young frogs in this story who never listened to their mother until she passed away.

Personal Response: This being a folktale, it did not really come as a surprise to me to see the mother pass away. Death is a huge part of many folktales and in them very often to our heroes or other good guys die. This is usually how the lesson is learned. That being said, this book used death to finally teach the frogs a lesson, and I think that it was done well. Death of the parent is extreme to teach them a lesson, but like I previously said, not unheard of in any folktales or myths.

Review Excerpts:

From Publishers Weekly: ” This is a strong lesson in obedience, but deftly rendered with a light touch. Ages 4-7.

From Booklist: “Ages 5^-8. What begins as a cheerful tale of naughtiness based on a Korean folktale (no notes are included) ends with a rather startling surprise. Crisp, exaggerated, rather sophisticated artwork, somewhat reminiscent of Lane Smith’s style, depicts a pair of ebullient, contrary frogs, who refuse even to croak correctly.”

Other Korean Folktales:

Lesson Plans: This is a folktale. So when doing a lesson on legends, myths, and folktales, this would work perfectly as it suits not only that, but the fact that it is a Korean folktale makes it even better to use in a multicultural classroom.

Heo, Y. (1996). The green frogs: A Korean folktale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISNB: 0618432280



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