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The Firekeeper's Son [Hardcover]

Linda Sue Park , Julie Downing
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 22 2004
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.

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From School Library Journal

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting story of a young boys choice May 5 2004
Format:Hardcover
Linda Sue Park's The Firekeeper's Son is a picture book that tells of life in a Korean village several hundred years ago. At that time fires were lit as signals that all was well. It is an exciting story the pits a young boys dreams for excitement against his duty and responsibility. Julie Downing's illustrations showing traditional Korean village life really bring the past alive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a Beautiful Read! April 15 2004
Format:Hardcover
The book is so interesting, so informative, and so gorgeous. Also, my kids enjoyed comparing the fires on the mountains to their favorite fantasy, LORD OF THE RINGS. The tie-in made it even batter for them.
Well done, Ms. Park, and while I am here, let me say, KEOKO is my other favorite of yours.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous and educational!! March 31 2004
By Liz
Format:Hardcover
My 5 year old son was on the edge of the bed in suspence with the story and in fascination by the wonderful pictures that brought the story to life. Great to learn about an old Korean tradition that I think is interesting to all age levels. Once again Julie Downing did such a fabulous job with her illustrations!!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burn, baby, burn April 2 2005
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I don't know why I feel this way, but you'd think there would be a lot of Newbery winning children's authors who'd switch their focus from time to time to picture books. And yet, this is not the case. In fact, it's rather rare for someone of Lunda Sue Park's stature to go about writing for children younger than her usual fare. It's almost as if she's slumming. But Park (who won the Newbery for "A Single Shard") has discovered what most winners fail to realize. That a picture book can be every bit as morally complex and intricate as a 230-some page novel. All it takes is excellent writing and an illustrator who knows their stuff. Which makes, "The Firekeeper's Son" a perfect example of a picture book that does everything right and ends up wowing the reader with its intensity.

Sang-hee lives in a small, unassuming, and peaceful village in Korea. One day, his father informs him that their little space is infinitely important (a fact that Sang-hee has a bit of difficulty believing). But his father is absolutely correct. Located beside the sea and just next to the first of a row of mountains, it understood that in the event of a seaward attack by Korea's enemies, this village is the first line of defense. That is why, every night, Sang-hee's father climbs the nearby mountain and lights a fire that can be seen for miles. Then, someone on the next mountain will see that fire and light their own. This continues all the way to the king's palace where, if the king sees the last mountain lit, he'll know that all is well. Of course, if the fire is not lit, the king would immediately send his soldiers out to battle with the enemy. Now this system has gone on for generations, but Sang-hee is not content. He would love to see the king's glorious soldiers more than anything else in the world. Then, one night, his father hurts his ankle while climbing up the mountain. Sang-hee is given the task of lighting the fire himself, but as he nears the pile of dried twigs he thinks about how much he'd like to see a soldier up close. And the hot coals are slowly burning out...

The book weighs an individual's personal wants and fantasies against the greater good of the whole, and does so beautifully. You completely understand Sang-hee's dilemma. On the one hand, there's the fact that not lighting the fire would be a callous lie. On the other hand, "Maybe there is a soldier who would be glad for a chance to visit the sea". Park's story is based on factual information, as she mentions in her Author's Note. However, the system by which bonfires informed the king of potential attacks was, in real life, far more complex than the one featured here. As Park herself mentions, "additional fires could be lit to convey further information, so the court would know not only which province was facing danger but things like the size of the enemy forces and how well armed they were!". She provides additional resources for further reading.

It was a real stroke of luck that Park was paired with illustrator Julie Downing too. Downing plays with lush watercolors and pastels that perfectly convey not only the cool blue nights Sang-hee must run through, but also the glow of the slowly dying coals and eventual hot orange flames. If you look on the cover of the book, you can see dream soldiers fighting in the fire and the bright orange flickers reflected in the black of Sang-hee's eyes. Downing's images are the perfect compliment to Park's deeply rich story.

As historical fiction picture books go, this one has to be one of the most beautiful on record. If you'd like a picture book that lures those sometimes hard to interest boy readers, but is just as doggone interesting to the girls of the world, this book's a safe bet. It's beautiful to look at and remarkably complex to contemplate. Art in the purest sense.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fire Jan. 17 2006
By Joel Bangilan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Set in Korea, some time in the nineteenth century, a young boy discovers the great responsibility of lighting the bonfires. When Sang Hee and his mother see that his father has not yet lit the bonfire, and see that there is no enemy coming from the sea, the boy takes up a responsibility that has been in the family for generations. He follows the path up the mountain to find his father injured and unable to climb the mountain. His internal conflict is against the temptation of satisfying his curiosity of soldiers versus responsibility. Good judgment outweighs his selfishness and the bonfire is lit. The systematic communication sends the message to the palace that the kingdom is peaceful. Park is an accomplished writer. The narrative is moving and interesting. The radiant colors of Julie Downing are well crafted.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous and educational!! March 31 2004
By Liz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My 5 year old son was on the edge of the bed in suspence with the story and in fascination by the wonderful pictures that brought the story to life. Great to learn about an old Korean tradition that I think is interesting to all age levels. Once again Julie Downing did such a fabulous job with her illustrations!!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Beautiful Read! April 15 2004
By readforteens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book is so interesting, so informative, and so gorgeous. Also, my kids enjoyed comparing the fires on the mountains to their favorite fantasy, LORD OF THE RINGS. The tie-in made it even batter for them.
Well done, Ms. Park, and while I am here, let me say, KEOKO is my other favorite of yours.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sang-hee's Choice April 13 2014
By O. Snow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
In Korea, in the early 1800s, four bonfires burned on the top of the mountains. They were a signal of peace to the king. If something were wrong, the fire would not be lit, as a message to the king to send soldiers to help. Lighting the fire was Sang-hee's father's job. One day, he hurt his ankle, so he sent Sang-hee to climb to the top of the mountain to light the fire. The village had been at peace for many years, so Sang-hee had never seen soldiers. He dreamed of seeing them just once. What if he didn't light the fire? If the king thought something was wrong would he send soldiers? What would Sang-hee do...? This was a touching story. Thank you to Linda Sue park and Julie Downing. I enjoy reading it very much.
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