Ko Jung-wook’s Children’s Book ‘Giffy, The Short-Necked Giraffe’ Turns A Disability Into An Asset


The theme of overcoming obstacles is a classic one in children’s literature, though in this case, the story behind the story is as inspiring as the tale itself. Korea Herald has a wonderful piece on Ko Jung-wook, a South Korean children’s book author who has written more than 300 titles, which have collectively sold 3 million copies. He often writes about disability, an issue that’s near to him—his legs were incapacitated just before his first birthday due to polio. His book The Boy who Carried the Backpack was inspired by a childhood memory.  

“When I was in elementary school, I had a classmate who carried my backpack for me,” Ko told the newspaper. “He carried my backpack for one year, rain or snow. It was quite an extraordinary thing for him to do.” Through this story and others, he showed that when someone is physically or mentally impaired, it’s not just the individual that bears the burden, but also his or her community. 

Now Ko’s book Giffy, The Short-Necked Giraffe has been turned into a musical. It’s a story about a vertically-challenged giraffe who’s belittled and shunned by the other giraffes because of his short neck. Though ultimately, the outcast turns his disadvantage into an asset and rises as the hero. Through his work, Ko aims to “combat discrimination and prejudice against disabled people” but also connect with anyone who has ever felt a little bit different.

Giffy’s short neck immediately catches viewers’ attention with its physical aspect,” Ko said. “But many people see themselves in Giffy: the multicultural family, the physically impaired, the foreigner and the outsider standing on the margins of mainstream society. Everyone is hurt and experiences the pain of being unable to participate in some way, so I think ‘Giffy’ can be viewed from multiple angles.”