A Tale of My Sweet Life

Ginger Park My Turn
Ginger Park | Provided Photo

 

I live in two worlds: one as a co-owner of a chocolate shop in downtown Washington, D.C., and one in a world I create. My customers always remark, “You own a chocolate shop and write children’s books—what a sweet life!”

But life wasn’t always so sweet.

Growing up, my father was a senior economist for the World Bank and often traveled to faraway places for his work—Thailand, Ethiopia and Peru. When he was away, I kept his photo under my pillow as a way of keeping him close to my heart. I was always missing my father, my rock, my hero.

Tragically, my father died on a business trip enroute to Malaysia, two days before my 17th birthday. It’s no surprise that birthdays have never been the same. My father’s untimely death put panic in my heart, and I clung to my mother, afraid if I so much as looked away, she might die too. During those dark days, I was full of anxiety as well as questions about my parents’ lives in old world Korea, questions I never thought to ask when my father was alive.

My mother was a luminous storyteller, sharing memories of my parents’ childhoods―stories so compelling I
couldn’t help but pick up the pen and begin to write, document and preserve. She told stories of my father and his impoverished boyhood on the outskirts of Seoul and how he believed a college education was his passport out of poverty. My father would eventually cross the seas to attend Harvard.

My mother told me about her missionary parents who trekked over mountains and valleys, spreading the word of God in a land ruled by Buddha. Most heartbreaking was the story of a 19-year-old brother and his doomed fate when he was forced to fight against his will on behalf of Japan in World War II, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and was never heard from again. Another story told of the mother who futilely waited for her son to come home, missing her opportunity to escape across the border into the south before the outbreak of the Korean War.

That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head. These stories should be in books. Little did I know that crafting my art was healing my anxious heart, too.

Ginger Park Book
“The Hundred Choices Department Store” (Regal House Publishing, 2022)

I went on to write many award-winning picture books inspired by my heritage. But as a chocolate shop owner, I was most intrigued by the story of my mother’s family, proprietors of a department store in their hometown of Sinuiju from 1930 to 1945. The department store would eventually crumble to the ground during the Russian invasion of Korea following World War II. But it would be years, decades even, before the idea of a book would come to me. “The Hundred Choices Department Store” (Regal House Publishing, 2022) a historical children’s novel, came to fruition eight months after my mother’s passing. In honor of my mother, the book’s release date is March 25 of this year— her birthday.

Writing is my happy place. Perched in front of a manuscript and falling into a world of words brings me joy and comfort. But the most rewarding aspects of writing children’s books are the letters I receive and the visits to my chocolate shop. Families from all over the country have walked through my shop doors to meet the author. I’m always deeply humbled. Honored. It’s a reminder of why I write books for kids. It’s not only to give youngsters a glimpse of a world so far removed from their own, but perhaps, in my small way, to inspire them to explore their roots and discover what’s there.

Ginger Park is the co-owner of Chocolate Chocolate in Washington. Her newest children’s historical novel, “The Hundred Choices Department Store,” is available at regalhousepublishing.com or through Amazon.com.

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