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Cover image for Behind the mask
Behind the mask

First edition.
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 27 cm
General Note:
"Frances Foster books."
Kimin, a young Korean-American boy, has trouble deciding on a Halloween costume, but as he looks through an old trunk of his grandfather's things, he suddenly unlocks a childhood mystery.


Call Number

On Order



Halloween is coming. "What are you going to be?" the children ask one another. Kimin says he will be his grandfather. "Going as an old man is not very scary," they tease. What the children don't know is that Kimin's grandfather was a Korean mask dancer. And Kimin doesn't know that the mask holds a secret for him.
With vibrant illustrations, Yangsook Choi joins Korean and American folk traditions in her story about a boy who finds a link to his grandfather, behind the mask.   Behind the Mask is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Author Notes

YANGSOOK CHOI grew up in Korea and currently lives in New York City. In addition to her collaborations with Milly Lee - Nim and the War Effort , an ALA Notable Book; Earthquake , an NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies; and, most recently, Landed - Ms. Choi wrote and illustrated Peach Heaven .

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 2-When his friends ask him what he will be for Halloween, Korean-American Kimin tells them that he will be his grandfather. The children don't think that it will be very exciting to dress as an old man, but the boy knows better. Before he died, his grandfather had been a famous mask dancer in Korea, and Kimin has two boxes of costumes, photos, and memorabilia from his career. He picks a mask that had scared him years before when he had visited his grandfather and shows his friends some dance moves as they go trick-or-treating. The children go to his house and all end up dancing and looking at the beautiful masks. The illustrations in muted fall colors enhance the story beautifully, and include endpapers with the stylized masks depicted. This is an evocative look at a Korean tradition and an interesting intergenerational and multicultural story for Halloween.-Judith Constantinides, formerly at East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, LA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Korean theater traditions meet American Halloween customs in Choi's (Peach Heaven) satisfying tale. When Kimin gets ready to choose a trick-or-treat costume, his mother brings him two red boxes from his late grandfather, "a famous dancer in Korea." Kimin feels ambivalent because his grandfather once startled him with a white-eyebrowed, white-bearded face. But inside the boxes, he finds family photos and the "gruesome" face-a stylized performance mask. This discovery transforms Kimin's negative memory and becomes a perfect Halloween outfit, although it gets a little scuffed. Choi's text-and-image layouts and cross-generational subject matter recall Allen Say's work on heritage. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

On Halloween, Kimin sneaks out of the house wearing his grandfather's Korean dancing costume and tal (mask). When he falls and scratches the mask, he worries about his mother's reaction. The story realistically reflects Kimin's fears and struggles. The muted autumnal illustrations move seamlessly between depictions of traditional Korean culture and those of modern-day America, invoking both solemnity and humor. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Just before Halloween, while looking through his late grandfather's things, Kimin recalls a time in Korea, when, late at night, he saw his grandfather, his face grotesque and distorted. Now he finds photographs of his grandfather as a professional dancer, as well as his robes and masks, and realizes that he only saw his grandfather in costume. Since Halloween is a time to honor the dead, Kimin decides to dress as his grandfather. He dons the robe and mask and impresses all of the neighborhood children, who don't recognize him. Tragedy strikes when the mask falls and is damaged, but this leads to Kimin's discovery of a note from his grandfather. Kimin's understanding mother helps him realize that his grandfather would not be angry, and together, he and his mother hang all of the masks in the house to commemorate his grandfather. A note about talchum, Korean mask dance, follows the story. A unique look at Halloween, this is a comforting story about death and some of the traditions of Korean culture. (Picture book. 5-8) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

A Korean American boy finds a unique way to celebrate Halloween in this original picture book. After his grandfather's death, Kimin misses him and feels a little afraid of the chests containing photos of his grandfather performing a traditional Korean mask dance as well as the clothes and frightening masks that he wore. Halloween approaches. When Kimin tells the other children that he will go as his grandpa, they laugh and joke about his choice. But when he dons the mask and robe on Halloween night, his costume and dance earn their respect. As Choi notes, Halloween is not just a time for scary costumes and candy, but also a time for honoring the dead. Ultimately, Kimin's unusual choice brings him closer to his grandfather. Quiet and well crafted, the story manages some subtle emotional shifts as well as the smooth weaving of one tradition into another. The author's note fills in more background about the mask dance. An interesting fusion of cultures in a story appealing to children. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2006 Booklist