The Firekeeper’s Son
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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The Firekeeper's Son
Karen Kozuch Gateway School District K-6 ESL (English Language Learners)
(Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math)
The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park is a piece of historical fiction set in Korea in the early 1800s. It is beautifully illustrated picture book appropriate for use in grades 1 through 4 and even in 5th or 6th for cultural awareness and discussion of universal themes like family loyalty, a sense of duty and responsibility, importance of truth, and consequences of our choices in our own relationships and for the greater community. This story is also conducive to vocabulary development and the discussion of how literary techniques reflect the author’s purpose and the tone of the story. A study of character development, setting (both time and place), and plot as portrayed through illustrations could also be made with students of all ages. A discussion of point of view (omniscient) and author’s purpose might also be incorporated while connecting the story to our present day lives.
As an ESL teacher, I interact with students ages 5 through 12 in both elementary and middle school settings. The two themes we are presently exploring are “How are families the same and different around the world?” and “What is a community?” On previewing this book, I noticed that it not only fit both of these themes, but was told with a fast-paced plot as well as similes, metaphors, and an almost musical sentence structure. I decided to use it for a speaking activity with my 3rd and 4th grade mid-range proficiency level students by having the students take on the role of storyteller. Besides assigning points from 1 to 5 on the speaking rubric for vocabulary, sentence complexity, and use of proper grammar, I also judge fluency with respect to intonation, pacing, volume, dramatic expression, and use of eye contact and body language. The descriptive vocabulary and poetic nature of the of this story are ideal for inspiring good storytelling with the support of rich, detailed illustrations. While reading the story aloud for the first time to a small group, I was able to make use of the literary techniques like parallelism, repetition, and sentence fragments to be more dramatic and lyrical and inspire excitement in my listeners who often joined in on the repetition or simply read along chorally of their own accord.
My students were very excited to make predictions at every turn of the story and even stood up to act parts out with the help of similes, “Our part of Korea is like a dragon with many humps,” metaphors, “It (one coal) broke into a hundred red jewels that glowed for a moment, then died,” and personification “a tongue of flame licked the tender. It ate all the tinder and reached greedily for the brush.” These literary techniques served the purpose of creating excitement and suspense as we waited to see if Sang-hee would light the fire or fail in his mission either through his own fault or accidental fate that would bring chaos and shame to his family and the entire village if the king’s troops were deployed on a fool’s errand. On pins and needles, my students were actually shouting advice at the main character, “LIGHT THE FIRE!” Given a few clues, they were able to relate this story to one they have heard before about a boy who cried wolf for his own selfish amusement and found himself regretting his actions as both he and the rest of the community faced the consequences of his behavior. The sense of pride and trust expressed by the father toward his son and the revelation that he too considered not lighting the fire as a young man revealed the depth of these characters. Their words and actions inspired the respect of my students as Sang-hee expressed his own pride and gladness that “felt as warm as a glowing coal.” This theme also fits well with our present unit on the importance of family, what makes a family, and whether your community and the world can be your family.
In our present day climate of uncertainty about what is right and wrong or acceptable in our political and public conduct, the values expressed in this book are an invaluable tool for the teaching of not only the cultural importance of Confucianism in Korea in regard to filial piety, but also universal values regarding ethics as a universal commonality.
The Firekeeper's Son
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The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park: suitable for children ages 5-8
Jayme Hadley – 1st grade teacher, self-contained classroom, Mary Queen of Apostles
The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park: suitable for children ages 5-8
This 19th century Korean tale, introduces us to the ancient Korean practice of the bonfire signal system. In this story, a village firekeeper’s daily responsibility includes lighting a fire at the top of the mountain, setting off a chain reaction throughout the rest of the village. If the king sees these fires, he knows all is well in the land. However, if he does not see fire he knows there is trouble and that he should send his soldiers at once. One night, the firekeeper is injured and he asks his young son, Sang Hee, to go light the fire. Sang Hee has always dreamed of seeing the king’s soldiers and hesitates on lighting the fire but, ultimately, does what he knows is right and lights the fire just as his father and grandfather have always done.
This story sends a great message to children about decision making and choosing right over wrong. In addition, I feel this story would be great for teaching young children about Korean culture and style of living, allowing for a comparison between our way of life and theirs. It would also be a great way to introduce and discuss filial piety and its importance in the Asian culture.
The Firekeeper's Son by Linda Sue Park: Reviewed by JLowe
A young boy is the son of a firekeeper who holds a critical role in the safety of the entire village. Each night the firekeeper is to light a fire on top of the mountain to signal to the following mountains that there is no trouble in the village. The second firekeeper lights his fire, and the cycle continues all throughout the kingdom until the King can see that the kingdom is safe. If the firekeeper does not light his fire, the kingdom is in danger from enemies at sea. If there is no fire lit in the kingdom, the King will send soldiers to fight the enemy.
One evening, the young boy does not see a fire so he becomes worried about his father. He is sent to the mountain to see where his father might be. He finds his father with his ankle hurt so the the young boy is tasked with the job of lighting the fire. The young boy debates with himself about lighting the fire. He wants to see soldiers in real life but he knows that the soldiers will be angry if they were called upon but not needed to defend their people. Eventually, the young boy lights the fire to start the safe signal in the kingdom. The young boy will now be apart of a long lineage of vital firekeeper's.
This story would be great tale to teach about the implications of our choices. The boy has to make a choice that would either affect himself or many people. He can chose to not light the fire in order to see the soldiers for his personal enjoyment or chose to light the fire to signal safety throughout the kingdom. The choice to either be selfish or unselfish. I suggest this book to every grade school teacher to start the discussion about the implications of choices!
The Firekeeper's Son (Picture Book K-3)
As a Kindergarten teacher one of my favorite areas of emphasis is character development. One theme I introduce and have the children explore and contemplate is the notion of "listening to your strong side." That is to say, when there is a voice in your head telling you to do the wrong thing, how do you tune it out and choose to do what you know to be right? I am always in search of developmentally appropriate picture books that illustrate a young child wrestling with this type of dilema. I also try to find rich stories from other cultures that have historical and artistic value as well. I am happy to report that The Firekeeper's Son matches my needs perfectly. My students loved it, especially the boys! It has fire, soldiers, a young boy facing an ethical dilema, beautiful illustrations and some real Korean history. What's not to love?
Set in a mountain village in Korea in the early 1800's, this tale describes the ancient bonfire signal system that alerted the king to danger and deployed sodiers to the rescue. A young boy (Sang-hee) watches his father do his daily chore of lighting the fire on the mountain to signal that all is well, but he secretly wishes to have the peace disrupted and see the soldiers come to his village by the sea. When his father gets hurt and can't light the fire, he sends his son to do so. This is when the inner struggle begins, and eventually Sang-hee does the honorable thing.
After reading the book to my class we had a valuable discussion about the differences and similarities of ancient Korean village life and their lives today. We talked about how long ago the 1800's were, how fire can be kept alive with coals, and discovered where Korea is on the world map. We compared this story to others that we had read. We also discussed both hypothetical situations and actual times when they faced this type of situation and what choices they made. Then they wrote about them in their journals and shared their entries with the rest of the class.
I do this type of lesson several times over the course of a few weeks with different books for each of the character development themes I teach. As a result, a lot of time over the course of the year is devoted to the exploration of honesty, courage, love, justice, etc., so integrating Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Math into these lessons is crucial. If you have the desire and ability to teach in this manner I can highly recommend this story. Even if you don't, I'm sure that your K-3 students will appreciate it.