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The Firekeeper's Son


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About 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-winning A Single Shard, the best-seller A Long Walk to Water, and the highly-praised novel Prairie Lotus. She has also written several acclaimed picture books and serves on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. She lives in western New York with her family. www.lindasuepark.com, Twitter: @LindaSuePark


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.

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.

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