The Firekeeper's Son

Overview

In Korea in the early 1800s, news from the countryside reached the king by means of signal fires. On one mountaintop after another, a fire was lit when all was well. If the king did not see a fire, that meant trouble, and he would send out his army. Linda Sue Park's first picture book for Clarion is about Sang-hee, son of the village firekeeper. When his father is unable to light the fire one night, young Sang-hee must take his place. Sang-hee knows how important it is for the fire to be lit-but he wishes that he...

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The Firekeeper's Son

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Overview

In Korea in the early 1800s, news from the countryside reached the king by means of signal fires. On one mountaintop after another, a fire was lit when all was well. If the king did not see a fire, that meant trouble, and he would send out his army. Linda Sue Park's first picture book for Clarion is about Sang-hee, son of the village firekeeper. When his father is unable to light the fire one night, young Sang-hee must take his place. Sang-hee knows how important it is for the fire to be lit-but he wishes that he could see soldiers . . . just once.
Mountains, firelight and shadow, and Sunhee's struggle with a hard choice are rendered in radiant paintings, which tell their own story of a turning point in a child's life. Afterword.

In eighteenth-century Korea, after Sang-hee's father injures his ankle, Sang-hee attempts to take over the task of lighting the evening fire which signals to the palace that all is well. Includes historical notes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"handsome, watercolor-and-pastel double-page pictures personalize the history...panoramic views...as the boy tends the flame that preserves peace" BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA

"a tale rooted in...history...watercolor illustrations glow with vibrancy... especially striking...A lovely telling that will bring readers back" KIRKUS REVIEWS Kirkus Reviews

"Suspenseful...Assured, empathetic storytelling involves readers in Sang-hee's inner conflict...Downing amplifies the tension with dramatically composed watercolor-and-pastel illustrations ...fascinating" PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review Publishers Weekly, Starred

"An attractive celebration of unity, peace, and family heritage, Sang-hee's story also emphasizes...beauty, power, and responsibility." THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"...compelling...Lyrical prose... Children will be intrigued...caught up in the riveting dilemma, and satisfied by the resolution." School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
Newbery Medalist Park (A Single Shard) brings an accomplished novelist's sensibility to this suspenseful picture book set in 19th-century Korea, fully developing her characters despite the abbreviated format. Every night, Sang-hee's father climbs the mountain in their seaside village and lights a fire, to signal that no enemies have landed. Firekeepers on adjacent mountains pass on the message, which eventually reaches the king's palace. Sang-hee pines for a little excitement and wishes that even one of the king's soldiers would ride out ("I could show him the beach. Where to catch the best fish.... After that he might teach me a little about sword-fighting"). One evening, when his father is injured, Sang-hee takes over his task. Tempted to draw the soldiers, and then almost unable to carry out his mission because he drops a coal and another burns out, Sang-hee kindles the fire at last, and takes pride in being, as his father says, "part of the king's guard just as the soldiers are." Assured, empathetic storytelling involves readers in Sang-hee's inner conflict. Downing (Mozart, Tonight) amplifies the tension with dramatically composed watercolor-and-pastel illustrations. While Sang-hee debates lighting the fire, his eyes nearly fill the spread, transfixed on the coal he holds and reflecting its hot orange glow. Elsewhere, sparks fly off the coal, metamorphosing into bright metal points on the armor of the soldiers he imagines. The notion of duty to others versus personal longing adds depth to an already fascinating snippet of history. Ages 5-8. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3-Park's command of place, characterization, and language is as capable and compelling in this picture book as it is in her novels. Set in 19th-century Korea, this story centers around an actual bonfire signal system. Every night, when Sang-hee's father sees that the ocean is clear of enemies, he climbs the mountain to light his fire, setting in motion a chain reaction of blazes that eventually reaches the peak closest to the palace and assures the king that all is well in the land. When Father breaks his ankle, his son must ascend alone into the darkness with a bucket of burning coals. During a dramatic pause, he contemplates the consequences of inaction and his secret desire to see the king's soldiers. Lyrical prose and deftly realized watercolors and pastels conjure up the troops in a vision linked to the glowing coal clasped in the boy's tongs. In the next scene, a close-up of the last coal illuminates Sang-hee's eyes, his face a study of concentration. Upon the child's descent, his father shares the memory of his own youthful desires and his pride in his son's accomplishment. A sense of inherited mission pervades the conclusion as Sang-hee learns that he, too, is "part of the king's guard." Children will be intrigued by this early form of wireless communication, caught up in the riveting dilemma, and satisfied by the resolution.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Drawing once again on her heritage, Newbery Medalist Park tells a tale rooted in the history of Korea. Centuries ago-and through the 19th century-the lighting of fires apprised the king of the safety of his country. Darkness warned of trouble. When Sang-hee's father is injured, Sang-hee must climb the mountain with the brass pot of hot coals to start the fire that signals all is well. The first night Sang-hee contemplates whether or not he should light the fire-after all, if he does not, the soldiers will come and he would like to see the soldiers just once. In the end both Sang-hee and his father are proud that Sang-hee has become a trustworthy fire-starter as his father and grandfather were before him. Even in the darkness the watercolor illustrations glow with vibrancy. The cover illustration is especially striking: Sang-hee bright-eyed at the orange-and-yellow fire flickering before him. A lovely telling that will bring readers back to read or hear this story one more time. (Picture book. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618133376
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/22/2004
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Downing has written and/or illustrated over 30 picture books. For Clarion, she has illustrated The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park, among others. Her books have received a Parents’ Choice Award and a New York Public Library Best Books Award. She lives in San Francisco, California. For more information visit www.juliedowning.com.

Linda Sue Park is the author of the Newbery Medal book A Single Shard, many other novels, and several picture books. She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family. For more information visit www.lspark.com.

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