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Asian Pacific American Lit. #3


Park, Linda Sue. The Firekeeper’s Son. Illustrated by Julie Downing. New York: Clarion Books, 2004. ISBN: 0-618-13337-2.



The Firekeeper’s Son is a fascinating historical children’s book about a Korean boy.  The plot centers on the tradition of burning a bonfire on top of the mountain as a system of communication with the Korean king used during the 18th century.  Sang-hee is the son of the firekeeper of the village.  He must make sure the fire is lit every night after his father has an accident.  He knows that if the fire does not burn, he could be able to meet a real soldier, but he knows the importance that the fire has to the well-being of the kingdom. 

Drawing once again on her heritage, Newbery Medalist Park tells a tale rooted in the history of Korea.”—Kirkus Reviews 

The author writes the story with respect giving great importance to the way the people of Sang-hee’s village think and live.   From the beginning, she sets the mood for this when Sang-hee’s father says, “We live is an important village.”  From these words the reader understands the feelings of pride and dignity these people experience from being part of the Korean kingdom.  Linda Sue Park shows the great influence that Sang-hee’s father has on him.  As he is lighting the fire he secretly wishes it would not light up so he can see a real life soldier, but his father’s words, “A time of peace, a time of peace,” make presence in his mind.  He lights the fire, and keeps the peace.  This shows the great importance Korean children give to their parent’s believes and advise.

The stunning illustrations are “dramatically composed in watercolor-and-pastels” (Houghton-Mifflin) that offer the reader a pick into the past.  The characters have real life characteristics that reflect the physical characteristics of Korean people, and the clothing reflects the way simple people dressed in Korea in the 18th century.  The colors used throughout the book make the reader experience different feelings.  For example, the illustration of Sang-hee and his mother is dominated by the violet and yellow hues this along with the expressions on their faces give the reader an anxiety feeling showing that something is wrong. 

An enchanting illustration is the one in which Sang-hee is getting the last coal with the tongs, and the reader can only see his eyes over the cauldron.  Sang-hee’s eyes reflect the fire of the coal which cast a feeling of fervor for the mission he has to accomplish. 

Julie Downing simply captures the reader’s imagination with her beautiful illustrations.

Children of Korean descent will definitely feel pride in sharing this important part of their history with children of other cultures.  Also, this story may be used to discuss the different systems of communication that have existed throughout the ages. 



Linda Sue Park Web Site. At      Retrieved on July 17, 2005.


Houghton Mifflin Press Release. At Retrieved on July 17, 2005.