The Firekeeper's Son

by Linda Sue Park and Julie Downing

Sang-hee’s father plays a vital role in their Korean village near the sea.... read more

Sang-hee’s father plays a vital role in their Korean village near the sea. As firekeeper, he climbs to the top of the mountain each evening to light a large bonfire. When the flames are visible on the next mountain, the firekeeper there lights his bonfire. The chain of fires continues, all the way to the palace. When the king sees the fire on the mountain nearest the palace, he knows that the land is safe and that no enemies have been seen approaching by sea. “'In your time, and my time, and your grandfather’s time, the fire has always been lit. It is good to live in a time of peace,’” Sang-hee’s father tells him. As long as the fires burn, the king will not send his soldiers to Sang-hee’s village to defend the border. But when the fire is unlit one evening, and his father lies injured with a broken ankle and unable to climb the mountain, Sang-hee thinks how thrilling it would be if the soldiers came. He imagines showing them the beach and being taught how to sword-fight. Then, remembering his father’s words about the value of peace, Sang-hee lets go of his fantasy and lights the signal fire himself. This engaging fictional story set in the early 1800s is based on the bonfire signal system used in Korea until the late nineteenth century. Sang-hee’s understandable desire for excitement is balanced with a welcome portrayal of heroic behavior during peaceful times. Although some visual details in hair and clothing lack cultural accuracy, the atmospheric watercolor and pastel illustrations glow, highlighting the flames of the fire in the evening sky. (Ages 5–8)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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