Skip to main content

Book Review: Let's Play Gonggi

October 3, 2023

Many of us adults now look back on our decidedly low-tech childhood pastimes with fondness. I remember playing hopscotch, for example, and partaking in neighborhood baseball games. I often encourage parents and caregivers to share their “old-school” games with their children. After all, play is a child’s work— and adults could stand to play more often.

Brown Books Kids has tapped into this nostalgia with Let's Play Gonggi. The second book in their “Traditional Korean Games” series, it was published in May of this year. While at first glance this is a book about the traditional game of gonggi, it is also a book about making friends and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

Eunji’s good mood is burst as soon as she enters her classroom. Jingu is there once again, overzealously greeting her as “partner,” and complimenting her on her dress. She borrowed it from her sister, what’s the big deal? But eagle-eyed Jingu notices that there are small plastic stones in her pocket. They are gonggidols for playing gonggi! Jingu quickly takes center stage. showing off his advanced skills.

Soon everyone is gaga for gonggi—everyone except Eunji. She vows to never play. But a chance encounter with Jingu at a dalgona stand leads Eunji to try something new—both the game and the candy. The book resolves happily, with a gonggi championship and a budding friendship.

Written by Im Seo-Ha, a former publishing house editor (and the author of all the books in the Traditional Korean Games series), Let’s Play Gonggi is listed as being for ages 6-10. In fact, Brown Books Kids classifies it as a book for Middle Readers. There is nothing in this picture book, however, that would be inappropriate or even inaccessible for younger children. Minjoo Kim’s friendly illustrations are very welcoming to the younger set, and dynamically render the action and feelings of its characters.

For readers inspired to try their hand at gonggi, the backmatter is very illuminating. The game is akin to Jacks, which I played as a child. Prospective players may also enjoy the video below.

There is a crucial piece information missing from Let’s Play Gonggi, however: the name of its translator! It is not listed on the front page, title page, or the publisher’s website. The only relevant information I found is on the copyright page:

“English translation rights arranged with KiKeun Dotori Publishing Co. through Media Solutions, Tokyo, Japan ( in conjunction with The Agency Sosa Korea.”

The work of translators to bring global literature to English-reading audiences cannot continue to go on uncredited. The level of skill, knowledge, and artistry required to render a work of literature intelligible, while still remaining faithful to the rhythms of language, should be recognized. The uncredited translator of Let’s Play Gonggi has given English language readers a highly readable book, with dialogue that feels as if it is being spoken by actual children. It is my hope that publishers do the right and fair thing and credit the work of translators in bringing global books to English reading audiences. 

*This review was adapted from a blog post originally published at the Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative blog.

Klem-Mari Cajigas


In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.