In this Korean folktale, a poor woodcutter saves the life of a deer. As a reward the deer wants to fulfill the woodcutter’s wish for a family to love. The deer explains that on the next full moon, the woodcutter should go to the top of the mountain where he will find an enchanted lake. Maidens will descend from heaven to bathe in the lake. While they are bathing, the woodcutter should hide one set of clothing. Without the clothing the maiden will not be able to return to heaven and will remain on earth as the woodcutter’s wife. After contemplating his decision, the woodcutter follows the deer’s instructions. The heavenly maiden returns with him to his home and becomes his wife. She cares for the woodcutter’s elderly mother as well as their child. The maiden becomes sad with homesickness. The woodcutter wants to help so when she asks to see and touch her heavenly clothing he gives it to her. She becomes spellbound by the clothing and puts it on. At that the moment the baby cries and she picks up the child. Before the woodcutter can stop her, she goes outside and begins to ascend to heaven once again. The woodcutter becomes very sad and miserable. He returns to the woods for more firewood and encounters the deer again. Still grateful for saving his live, the deer again helps the woodcutter. The deer tells the woodcutter to return to the lake that night because the heavenly maidens lower a basket to collect water from the lake. He should get into the basket and he will be reunited with his family. The woodcutter decides that he must take his mother with him so he carries her up the mountain to the lake. He places her in the basket and then he joins her. Together they are too heavy and the basket won’t rise. The woodcutter jumps out and the basket takes his mother to heaven. The woodcutter is happy that his mother will have joy in her life. When the heavenly king hears of the woodcutter’s selfless deed, he sends a dragon-horse to the woodcutter. In a moment the dragon-horse reunites the woodcutter with his family in heaven.
For use with Pre K - 3
This book is beautifully illustrated and reveals many aspects of Korean culture. I was concerned with the stranger/danger but fantasy prevails throughout the story from the main character conversing with forest animals to dragons whisking him away to heaven.
Possible follow up activities include discussions of the elements of folk tales, the merits of fantasy verses reality in storytelling, and the various components of the Korean culture found in the book (ceremonial wedding attire, clothing, and architecture) for older children. After reading the story, the younger children could discuss how the woodcutter was kind to his mother and then be asked to draw a picture and dictate words about how they are kind to the special grown up in their life. In sharing these pictures with the class, further discussion could ensue about how we are kind to each other. A “Kindness Jar,” in which a marble is placed every time we see a child doing something kind for another person, could be implemented to promote additional acts of kindness. Once the jar is full, a reward is given to all of the children as when the woodcutter was taken to heaven to be with his family.