PreSchool-Grade 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
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K-Gr. 3. Park, who won a Newbery Medal for her novel A Single Shard (2001), tells a picture-book story set in Korea in the early 1800s about a young boy in a remote village who suddenly finds himself serving his country. At sunset Sang-hee's father always climbs the mountain and lights a fire that signals to another firekeeper on the next mountain to light his fire, and so on, all the way to the mountain at the palace of the king, who knows from the fire signals that all is well in the land. Then one evening Sang-hee's father breaks his ankle, and the boy must keep the light burning. Downing's handsome, watercolor-and-pastel double-page pictures personalize the history, showing realistic close-ups of the child, who plays soldiers and dreams of the excitement of battle. In contrast are the panoramic views far across the country as the boy tends the flame that preserves peace from mountain to mountain. Add this to those lighthouse stories about the brave child who must take over for adults. Hazel Rochman
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