English books galore for pint-sized readersn the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail,” a children’s bookstore called Shop Around the Corner epitomized the small, cozy mom-and-pop establishments threatened by supersized chains like Borders. Peek-a-book, a recently opened children’s bookstore in Banpo-dong, recreates the snug atmosphere of the film’s bookshop in the heart of Seoul’s Gangnam district.
Gina Lee, 35, the owner, says she modeled her bookstore on the Books of Wonder shop in Manhattan, the real-life bookstore for the movie.
“I’ve always wanted to open a children’s bookstore, and my visits to Books of Wonder on West 18th Street inspired me to start one in Korea,” says Ms. Lee, who has an infant son.
The shopkeeper lived in New York City for 12 years, and worked on theater design at Hunter College. Her work on children’s plays such as “Alice in Wonderland” got her thinking about opening a children’s bookstore. This year, she did.
Inside the shop, children’s books such as the Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street and Beverly Clearly series fill the shelves, though classics by E.B. White and Roald Dahl are also on hand. Sharing shelf space with the reading material are dolls such as Winnie the Pooh and American board games like Monopoly, Boggle and Scrabble. The selection is divided by reading level, from age 3 to 13.
The shop also doubles as the clubhouse for a reading club, with English book-reading sessions organized for elementary school children. On a weekday afternoon, three boys and one girl, all 6 years old, have gathered for a book-reading session led by David Brooks, an 18-year-old university student who volunteers.
“Who’s ready to start?” asks David. The children answer, “I am, I am!”
To begin, David and the children ― who are given the names Jupiter, Mimi and Joshua ― make wind-measuring instruments called anemometers out of plastic cups and pens. Joshua speaks fluent English, while the others alternate with Korean.
“Using arts and crafts before a reading helps the children become interested in the reading topic,” Ms. Lee says.
As the children play with their new toy, David asks them, “Which way does the wind blow, kids?” About half an hour later, David takes out a book called “Feel the Wind” and starts reading. Joshua is attentive, while the others prefer blowing on their anemometers. Seeing that the children have become distracted, Ms. Lee steps in.
“Hey kids, let’s read ‘Little Cloud,’” she says. Using lively gestures and a theatrical voice, she instantly draws them in. As the reading session ends, mothers and a grandmother arrive for their youngsters.
“Buying books at bookstores has become a thing of the past,” Ms. Lee says. “These days everyone is using the Internet. But I believe that it is essential for a child to learn to choose books with his or her mother in a bookshop. It’s a vital part of learning.”
by Choi Jie-ho