“Oh! Oh! Oh! Take a picture!” Yes, we were walking down the street, and when my son in law saw the Aladdin sign, he told me to take a picture. I didn’t know why, but I took the picture while asking why. My daughter and son in law decided to show me why, so we went inside the Aladdin bookstore as they explained.
Aladdin bookstore is a very unique bookstore chain throughout Korea. It is a place where people come to buy and sell second hand books. Aladdin doesn’t take or sell just Korean books, but books from everywhere.
We headed down the stairs into the basement as my daughter and son in law explain the place to me. The walls are lined with pictures of famous authors from all over the world, not just Korean authors. They tell me that you enter every Aladdin bookstore through a hallway with these pictures on the walls.
As we get into the basement, it is a good sized bookstore. My daughter points to a sign that all foreign books are marked down today which is a good day for us to come since we are foreigners. She also sees a Korean e reader. She really enjoys her American e reader and is curious about the Korean one.
As we keep going, all the things for sale that are not books is themed. There are different stories and authors highlighted in all the merchandise. I see Alice in Wonderland key chains, Walden Pond and Elizabeth Barrett Browning cards, and F. Scott Fitzgerald pencils among many more things. I am a retired English professor, and these names really reach out to my heart.
As I browse the books, there are lots of Korean books, but also books from other languages. I see famous American faces on some of the Korean books which is normal in a Korean bookstore. Average Koreans may know more about our famous people than we do. I see Korean anime, but I also see Japanese anime. I see computer books, culture books, etc. I see books written about every country in the world.
Finally, I see a cart of new arrivals from Los Angeles with the exchange rate listed at the top. These books are all in English. I spot a C. S. Lewis book. I also see another large section of English books.
They are children’s books. I see Dr. Seuss books. I used to read these books to my little sister and to my own kids. Now, I read them to Korean children, and then let them read them back to me. Korean children who speak English love these as much as American children do. They have told me they enjoy reading them because they are funny. These books do a lot of rhyming and are good for teaching the children phonics. There are also phonics books on these shelves.
I see the Lady Bird Reading series. I believe in Dr. Seuss, but I also really believe in these books. I originally saw them when I lived in Nigeria. Next, I found them in Texas, then in Romania, then in Japan, and now they are in Korea. They are originally from England. The Lady Bird books are organized with some principles in mind that make them the perfect reading series in my mind. They teach the most used words first. Have you ever picked up a children’s book and wondered why there are so many big long words in an easy reader? Well, these books don’t have those big long words. There is a theory that 300 words make up most of what we read and speak, so they begin by teaching those 300 words to speed the kids on to reading fluency faster, and it works. I used these books to help my kids learn to read. My oldest son used them and began reading before he went to kindergarten. My second son was dyslexic, and I am convinced he never would have learned to read without these books because the eye doctor said he would never read, but I had already taught him to read with these books. The eye doctor thought it was a miracle.
The Lady Bird Reading series is not just good for teaching reading. When I went to Romania, there were no books to study the Romanian language. They had been cut off from the outside world, and I looked everywhere for a book to teach me to speak Romanian, and they just didn’t exist. Romanian teachers didn’t exist either, so I got an English teacher to teach me Romanian. He didn’t know where to start. I told him to teach me the words used in the Lady Bird Reading series and the past, present, and future of the verb. When he did, I began speaking Romanian in six months. After that, any time the time was appropriate in my English as a Second Language teaching, I used those books, and my students have grown by leaps and bounds by using them.
I also see books for older kids: The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. There are so many interesting books here, and any foreigner in Korea will want to know about this chain of shops. I spot a book that was in my house when I was growing up, the Bible story book. My family has always been a family of avid readers, and I really appreciate this bookstore.
In every Korean bookstore, there is a place that you sit and read the books. You don’t have to buy them. You can just sit and read them. On the wall behind the guy who reads the whole time we were there, the loose translation goes something like this, “Aren’t we lucky! The world is a huge place with many forgotten stories, and we can sit here and read them.”
There are people everywhere looking for books. Some milling around through the books, some looking on the computer for something specific.
I decide to go and see what kind of books they have written in Korean for children here because usually when we go into a Korean books store, my daughter, whose Korean is much better than mine, picks out some children’s books in Korean she thinks are on my level, and then hands them to me to read while she looks around. She can read novels in Korean because she had time to go to school here, but I was too busy making a living to go to school, so I just found books to study in my spare time. I find three interesting children’s books. One has traditional Korean stories. Another is about a gift for Mother, and the last one is about the ancient times in Korea. The picture on the front of that one looks like an American Indian. I also see children’s books with English words on them. English is always being mixed with Korean here. English is Korea’s second language, and many things are written in English here.
My son in law tells me that we need to go, so we head out of the store. On my way out, I have to stop to take another picture. I spotted a picture of Ernest Hemingway. My son in law was right. Every foreigner and every Korean in Korea should know about the Aladdin bookstore.