Walking Through the Past – Ellen Oh

In delving into a motivating and energetic appearance of Ellen Oh, her past and the power of stories were revealed.

Peeling back the pages of history that impacted her, and interwoven among her family history helped indeed show the power of storytelling to the wider public.

Representing parts of her past through the stories of Finding Junie Kim, she referred to the fact that at the time, it was emphasized that it was better to starve then to take rice from the communists. I am unclear if this was the Professor Hong that Ms. Oh referred to, but this is a question I will put in the “to ask” column. Seemingly this connects to the history of the Great Chinese Famine, which again, I am putting in my “to ask” column as I am curious if this is connected to the history of Korea.

As it is VERY easy to get lost in the MANY changes of rule between Korea/ Vietnam and China, many resources I have stumbled across help to clear some of these details up (The Best We Could Do). I think one of the most powerful aspects of storytelling is also showing how DIFFERENT countries can help tell the history of INDIVIDUAL countries, a wider perspective being opened.

Ms. Oh relating that her Dad was a storyteller, and she moved to relating historical events that are tied to the strength of youth and student uprisings:

1979- Park Chung Hee’s assassination preceded student protests occurred, under Chun Doo Hwan, 4000 special forces surprised protestors and used full force on youth and killing record numbers that protested.

In 1985 Ms. Oh related to us one of the most controversial books published about this event – Gwang Ju Diary Beyond Death: Beyond the Darkness of the Age “The author, Lee Jae-eui wrote the book in 1985 based upon many interviews and his concern was to tell the truth about what had happened in Gwangju in May of 1980. Lee was a junior at Gwangju’s Chonnam National University at that time. The detailed records rest on his experience and oral testimonies.” What a rabbit hole of information, from storytelling, I was never aware of! Especially for a book where all copies were being destroyed, those associated with contributing to the book were imprisoned, all over highlighting the atrocities against citizens. In 1987, President Chung stepped down, all this over a banned book.

Storytelling enlightens.

Ms. Oh emphasized how Censorship protects you from Reality.

Oh’s reference to LGBTQ Bills from 2022:


and simultaneously this Kurt Vonnegut quote:

“I hate it that Americans are taught to fear some books and some ideas as though they were diseases.”

Ms. Oh pointed out the bravery in 1951 when Barbara Johns fought segregation.

I loved that Ms. Oh asked, books saved lives and which books have saved our lives.

Powerful and nothing more needing said from Bruce Coville’s insight:

“The real heroes are the librarians and teachers who at no small risk to themselves refuse to lie down and play dead for censors.”

Ms. Oh referred to We Need Diverse Books Illustrator, Vanessa Brantley Newton, and the power of image to combat censorship issues as well.

Vanessa Brantley Newton

Ms. Ellen Oh emphasizes the fact that gathering allies together, indeed is the key to addressing the issue of saving storytelling, supporting the long history of the power of youth voices and empowerment, and denying any power censorship seems to “protect.”

Ms. Ellen Oh was the perfect voice for these messages.


About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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