The Turtle Ship

by Helena Ku Rhee (Author) Colleen Kong-Savage (Illustrator)

The Turtle Ship
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

A young Korean boy named Sun-sin designs one of the greatest battleships in history and fulfills his dream of sailing the world.

Long ago in Korea, a young boy named Sun-sin spent his days playing with his pet turtle Gobugi and dreaming of sailing around the world. As a poor villager, though, his dream to travel seemed impossible. Then one day, the king's court announced a contest to find the best design for a new battleship to defend the land from invaders. The winner would sail the ocean with the royal navy.

Determined to win, Sun-sin attempts to build an indestructible battleship with a few found items. Each attempt fails miserably against the powerful sea, and with it Sun-sin's dream also sinks to the bottom. Turning to Gobugi for comfort, Sun-sin notices how his pet turtle is small but mighty, slow but steady, and impossible to sink. Suddenly, Sun-sin has a great idea.

Loosely based on the true story of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship, this delightful tale by debut author Helena Ku Rhee and debut illustrator Colleen Kong-Savage introduce young readers to a fascinating episode in Korean history and naval engineering.

Publishers Weekly

In this original tale loosely based on Korean history, a boy wins a national engineering challenge with inspiration from his pet. Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world beyond his seaside village, so he's thrilled when the king issues a new battleship design competition: the winner will receive riches and, best of all, a role with the royal navy. After several failed attempts, Sun-sin hits on the perfect prototype: his turtle, Gobugi, who "is strong and steady and never sinks." He's mocked at court when he presents the idea, but a sudden attack from a royal cat gives Gobugi a chance to demonstrate his superior defensive skills, and the king is convinced that a turtle ship is the winning plan. Rhee's smoothly paced story arc will read aloud well, while Kong-Savage's striking, precise paper-collage scenes are equally effective in conveying the sweeping drama of ocean views and the personality and warmth in close-ups of Gobugi's small, green face. An afterword about the story's historical roots closes this engaging tale with a strong STEM focus from two debut creators. Ages 5-7. (June)

Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

PreS-Gr 2--Rhee tells the legend of Sun-sin and his best friend, a turtle named Gobugi, and how they came to invent the Turtle Ship. After hearing that the Emperor is holding a contest for the best battleship design, Sun-sin presents Gobugi as inspiration for a great vessel, having witnessed the turtle's smart physical design. At first the Emperor rejects the idea, but after seeing Gobugi survive an encounter with a cat, he declares Sun-sin the winner, making history. The plot is loosely based on a true story, but reads like a delightful folktale that skillfully incorporates moral lessons about strength and appearances. The vocabulary is simple enough for the audience, and the text is well formatted on the page. There is one battle scene, though nothing too heavy or graphic is depicted. Kong-Savage's collage illustrations bring the story to life through almost 3-D imagery and are beautiful to look at. The use of muted colors to depict the home of Sun-sin contrasts nicely with the brighter colors of the Emperor's palace, creating an excellent source of tension. The illustrators and the narrative work together wonderfully to tell this fascinating episode in Korean naval history. VERDICT A great mix of myth and history for most picture book collections.--Margaret Kennelly, iSchool at Urbana-Champaign, IL

Copyright 2018 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Helena Ku Rhee
HELENA KU RHEE works at a movie studio by day and is a children's book writer by night. Born in South Korea, she grew up listening to mighty tales of the Turtle Ship and Admiral Yi Sunsin from her parents and grandparents. Helena loves the idea that since nobody is 100% certain about the origins of the Turtle Ship design, it could very well have been a small, quiet turtle who inspired the creation of one of the greatest battleships of all time. This is her picture book debut. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and you can find her online at COLLEEN KONG-SAVAGE is a full-time illustrator and graphic designer. When she first moved to New York City, Kong-Savage worked at an art supply store, where she spent half her paycheck on decorative papers. For this debut picture book, she spent countless hours researching the clothes, living conditions, and landscape of the Joseon Dynasty, and then finding the right paper for each item. The papers used in this book come from around the world, including Korea where traditional paper is handmade from mulberry bark. Kong-Savage lives in New York City. You can visit her online at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
June 20, 2018
Age Range
5 - 8 years

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