Introduction to Korean Children's Literature - by Jung Jina

Korean children's literature has evolved over time from myth, fable, legend, old story, and traditional children's song. The modern children's literature, however, started in 1908 when Choi Nam Sun published the first issue of Sonyeon, a first educational magazine for children in Korea. Before the publication of Sonyeon, most of the literature for children was oral traditional literature, not distinct from general literature. Choi Nam sun published a poem under the title "Hae-egye-seo-so-nyeon-egye (From the sun to a boy)" in the first issue of Soneyon. In recognition of this poem as the first children's poem, and to mark the centennial anniversary of children's poem, exhibition children's poem and picture and seminar were successfully held in 2009 in Korea.

Bang Jeong Hwan started the genuine development of Korean children's literature in 1920. In 1922, he published "Sarangeu-seon-mool (gift of love)", the first world classic children's story in Korean. In this book, several translated stories from Andersen's fairy tales, Grim Brothers' fairy tales, and Arabian night were included. In 1923, the first children's literature magazine "Eo-rin-e (children)" was issued. Also on May 1 of the same year, the Saek-dong-Hoi, the first activist group for children's literature in Korea, was formed. From that time, the use of word "Eo-rin-e (children)" which is used to address children honorifically started, and the "Children's Day" was established.
Under these influences, dozens' of children's magazine were published. Among them, "Shin-so-neon (New Boys)", "Sae-Beot (New Friends)", "Ey-saeng-hwal (Children's Life)", and "Byeol-nara (Star World)" were the most famous.

The first original fairy tale in Korea was "Bawi-nari-wa-aki-byeol (Rock lily and Baby Star)". This short story was published in 1923 in the magazine "Saet-byeol (the Morning Star)".

In 1920s, activists group for children, magazine editors, religious leaders, journalists, social and cultural activists, and independence fighters led the children's literature, indicating that children's literature of this time was national and cultural movements.

In 1930s, the basis for growing into modern children's literature circle was formed, and environment for improving the professionalism of literature was created. For original fairy tales, writer Ma Hae Song, for life fairy tales, Lee Koo Jo, and for boy story, Choi Bvung Hwa, Roh Yang Keun, and Hyun Deok developed their own literary world. Children's song literature also entered upon a new phase, developing into children's poem. During this time, Han Jeong Dong (Ddaoki), Youn Seok Joong (Korea's first children's poem collection "Yoon Seok Joong's Children's Song Collection", published in 1932), Lee Won Soo [Ko-hyang-eo-bom (Spring of Hometown)], Yoon Bok Jin, Park Young Jong [Eol-look-song-a-ji (Calf with Brown Spots)], Kang So Cheon [children's song collection, Ho-bak-kkot-chorong (Pumpkin Flower Lantern) and fairy tale collection, Kkoom-eul-jjik-neun-sa-jin-kwan (Photo Studio for Dream)] built their own literary world.
Korea was under the Japanese colonial rule from 1909 to 1945. In 1937 when the suppression and exploitation by Japan went to extremes, Koreans were even prohibited from speaking Korean language. From this time until the liberation from the Japanese rule in 1945, Korean children's literature went through the dark ages.

With liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Korean children's literature developed into literary activities as pure art from cultural movement. In 1950, however, Korean War broke, causing political, economical, and social chaos. Due to this chaotic environment, popular boy story, detective story, and cartoon emerged in the field of children's literature. Despite this environment in which popular literature was expanding, children's literature continued its development into genuine literature.

By late 1950s, Korean children's literature took on a new character with the emergence of competent budding writters and formation of various literary groups. Attempts were made to find competent budding writters through the revival of a literary contest in spring, implementation of recommendation system for budding writters, and awards for budding writters. Thanks to these efforts, many children's literature clubs were formed around the country.

In 1960s, literary fairy tales lost vigor due to active children's poetry. In 1960s, childre's poetry seemed to be the only literature in the filed of children's literature. Young poets' of children's poem such as You Kyung Hwan, Paark Kyung Yor.g, Shin Hyun Deuk, and Kim Jong Sang were active, and literary discussions on children's literature were focused only on children's poem. However, there were some changes in the field of literary fairy tales. The quality of fairy tales improved and became distinct with new styles from the fairy tales of the past. In early 1970s, unlike from the reality in which children's poem was becoming ever more difficult, fairy tales became distinct from children's novel. The number of fairy tale writters increased, and characteristics such as historical consciousness, self-discovery, whistle-blowing consciousness for irrational reality, structural contradictions in human population, and exposure of irrational society emerged. Notable writters of this time include Kwon Jung Saeng, Oh Se Bal, Jung Jin Chae, Jung Chae Bong, Bae Ik Cheon, and Song Jae Chan. Since then, the number of children's poets and fairy tale writters sharply increased, and critics children's literature became active. Thanks to these efforts, the quality and quantity of children's literature grew in various fields.

Since 1988 of Seoul Olympics, Korean children's literature changed greatly with characteristic such as the development in the field of picture book, original works dealing with various themes, active translation of foreign fairy tales and picture books, critics group for fairy tales, encouragement of reading culture, and award program for children's literature led by publishing companies. Parent's desire to give good books to their children was the main drive for the development in Korean children's literature.

Korean children's literature has made a great stride in terms of both quality and quantity. In the Korea Literary Association of Children's Poem, about 600 members including children's poets, critics and child writters are working as active members. Besides, in the Korea Literary Association of Children's poem, 240 children's poets and critics are actively working. In the Korea Association of Green Children and Youth Literature, about 70 writers, poets, and critics of children and youth literature are performing creative activities. Apart from these, many associations related with children's literature are performing creative activities. Literature requires innovation all the time. That is the intrinsic nature of literature. Korea children's literature will continue to develop with another innovations.