The One Thing You’d Save

By Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng. Clarion Books, 2021. 72 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for ages 8 and up.

This past year of pandemic shutdown may have brought many of us an opportunity to reflect on what is truly important in our lives. The One Thing You’d Save is just such a reflection.

Set in a middle school classroom and in the language of tweens, Park’s book is also an invitation for adults and young people alike to reflect upon this query: If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save? “Your family and pets are safe, so don’t worry about them.”

Park’s book, drawing on the sijo form of traditional Korean poetry, is an informal dialogue between a classroom teacher, Ms. Chang, and her very diverse middle school students. As each student speaks, the thoughts of the next are jogged. One student said she would save the sweater her grandmother had knit for her; another then remembered she would save an old photo of her grandparents from before they married; one student would save a rug to roll any other victims in, whose clothing might have caught fire; another would save the dog collar of his beloved pet who had recently died. In the end, Ms. Chang, stretched by all these earnest and varied responses, finds, to her surprise, she would save her philodendron plant that had grown from the cuttings of three generations of her family.

There are really two stories in this book. There is the story Linda Sue Park tells about Ms. Chang and her students, and there is the story we may be stirred to tell as we consider our own life and possessions, and what we might save in a fire. The book lends itself to being read and shared across generations. In my mind’s ear, I can hear the rich conversations families could have around this core question: What is most important in my life? What really matters?

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review listed the publisher’s recommended ages (8–12) in the book’s details. It has been updated to more clearly show our own age recommendation, as determined by the reviewer and the young Friends book review editor.

Ken Jacobsen and his wife, Katharine, lived and worked in Quaker schools and communities for many years. Since Katharine’s passing in 2017, Ken has carried on his work of healing from their poustinia, a retreat house for sojourners at their lakeside home in Wisconsin.

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