Linda Sue Park’s The One Thing You’d Save is a unique hybrid of sorts. It’s geared toward middle schoolers, but has lovely black and white illustrations on nearly every page. It is also less than 80 pages long, with sparse text in the Korean sijo poetry style.
A teacher asks her students one thing they would save in a fire if all their pets and loved ones were already out safely. They can choose any one thing, no matter the size or weight. Their responses are funny, heartwarming, surprising, and poignant. We never actually get to “meet” students, but we see their names and the dialogue between students and between students and teacher.
What do the kids want to save? Cell phones, a sweater knitted by a grandparent, the collar of a dead pet, plaques, a bedroom rug, sea shells, a parent’s insulin kit, an entire bookcase. But beyond the objects, the meat of this book is in the reasons why these kids have chosen their one thing. Then, there are the kids who choose to save nothing — their reasons will make your heart ache too.
By the end of the class, even the teacher rethinks her choices, just as every reader will. This book might not satisfy you completely, if like me you enjoy plot, but it will make you think about the one thing, or things that matter most to you. Teachers and middle schoolers alike will find this book to be an excellent conversation starter, and the illustrations will entice reluctant and younger readers.
- Afoma Umesi is a freelance writer and editor with a voracious appetite for children’s literature. She blogs about books at Reading Middle Grade.