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Today I read this rare book, The One Thing You’d Save. It is rare in the sense that it has broken every one of the rules that people tell you about writing for kids. And it is breathtakingly excellent. Newberry award winning writer and poet Linda Sue Park has published many books, historical fiction, picture books and this book that readers from ages 7 to adult would enjoy. This is the book you could circulate before your Thanksgiving or holiday meal with family. It would spur an interesting discussion, much more interesting and much less fraught than talking about politics.
It starts with a homework assignment by a gentle, thoughtful teacher. She tells her scholars to imagine their home is on fire, their family and pets are safe. She asks, what is the one thing, the only one thing, they would save as the ran out of their home?
What follows is the musings and answers and discussions by many of her scholars, revealing their interests, loves, concerns and hopes. It is funny, heartbreaking, happy, sad and so thought-provoking. If you read it to your kids, or your whole family this book will make everyone think.
About the rule-breaking: it is 80 pages, too short to be a novel; too long to be a picture book. It is fully illustrated like a picture book with*, calm, detailed city views that do not include scenes of fire. The cover is in color, but, all of the other incredible illustrations by Robert Sae-Heng are completely in black, grey and white, the color of ash.
The paragraph and page structure is unusual. Linda Sue Park explained the structure she uses is based on a ancient Korean poetry called sijo (SHEE-zho). A sijo is three lines of thirteen to seventeen syllables in short or long lines. The lines do not rhyme, but even to people not familiar with this poetic form, there is an inherent beauty in the spareness of the language, in the way the kids’ thoughts and resulting decisions are concisely reported, in just three lines.
And yet, the language is true to how kids actually speak, with slang, with incorrect verbs sometimes. It simply rings so true.
The One Thing You’d Save was published by Clarion Books of Harper-Collins. You can buy it in the most intelligently curated bookstores, through bookshop.org that supports your local bookstores, or from Amazon on the link I have placed below in the comments. And check your library. I borrowed this copy from the beautiful new Archer Florida public library in Alachua County.
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