Journey under the sea in The Ocean Calls and discover the story of South Korea’s haenyeo.
Dayeon’s grandma is like a mermaid, exploring the ocean’s depths without an oxygen tank, then bringing abalones, octopus and other creatures to the surface. For Grandma and her fellow haenyeo, the water is home—a home she will teach her granddaughter how to find. But being a haenyeo is about more than seeking treasures beneath the waves; it’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. In the 1600s, South Korean women whose husbands were away in the military took on the task of gathering the king’s annual tribute of abalone. In 2016, the women known as “Korea’s granny mermaids” were placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Author Tina Cho writes with clear reverence for the haenyeo and narrates with resonant simplicity and honesty. She infuses Dayeon’s fictional story with details about the haenyeo tradition and way of life. We see the haenyeo carrying their gear to the beach, practicing their diving breath, exhaling with a whistling sound called sumbisori and gathering after a dive in the bulteok, a communal space on the beach, their worn faces full of determination and pride.
Jess X. Snow’s illustrations are saturated with wide strokes of deep blues and purples, and their use of light is masterful as they transport readers below the waves to peer up at the sun on the water’s surface. Washes of color contrast with intricately drawn shells and fish to create a world so encompassing and vivid, I found myself holding my breath with each dive.