The One Thing You'd Save

by Linda Sue Park (Author) Robert Sae-Heng (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates' responses. A lively dialog ignites as the students discover unexpected facets of one another--and themselves. With her ear for authentic dialog and knowledge of tweens' priorities and emotions, Linda Sue Park brings the varied voices of an inclusive classroom to life through carefully honed, engaging, and instantly accessible verse.

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Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

In a classroom, teacher Ms. Chang poses a premise: "Imagine that your home is on fire. You're allowed to save one thing./ Your family and pets are safe, so don't worry about them./ Your Most Important Thing. Any size." The students respond--some share, others contemplate privately--traversing a wide terrain, including the practical ("MY DAD'S WALLET. DUH") and deeply personal remembrances. One child reflects silently about their "total dump" of a home ("Be glad to see it burn down"), while another secretly recalls escaping an actual burning building: "The only thing you worry about saving is your own sorry skin." Readers may not realize that the volume is a collection of poems until they read Park's closing note, which explains her inspiration: traditional Korean sijo verse, which consists of three lines of 13 to 17 syllables and is sometimes broken into six shorter lines. This relatively flexible structure creates a rhythmic variety of declarations, reflections, interjections, and occasional dialogue employed throughout, complemented by Sae-Heng's gray-toned, sketchlike illustrations. While each child's voice isn't entirely distinct, the class's camaraderie and caring spirit comes through clearly, poised to inspire thoughtful classroom discussion. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"[Park's] message is powerful: We don't need a great blazing tragedy to determine what we hold most precious in our lives; we can define what's vital through our thoughts and memories, always at hand, in our heads and hearts — safe, where the flames don't reach."—New York Times Book Review

"Park's verses provide a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of the preoccupations, loves, losses and aspirations of a diverse group of children and their teacher.... It's impossible not to feel a sense of renewal from this thoughtful book."—BookPage

★ "Newbery Medalist Park presents a provocative collection of narrative poems inspired by sijo, a 14th-century Korean syllabic verse form.... Coupled with debut illustrator Sae-Heng's accessible grayscale sketches of the objects, often in situ, Park's subjects' mementos offer middle-grade readers much food for thought regarding what one values and how others can touch one's life.... Park's extended rumination has the power to bring us home."—Kirkus, STARRED review

★ "This is an ode to learning with a savvy and caring educator who knows how to build community and empathy by having students share their stories and who joins in their exercises (and is even convinced to change her mind)."—The Horn Book, STARRED review

★ "The class's camaraderie and caring spirit comes through clearly, poised to inspire thoughtful classroom discussion."—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

★ "This is a combination of piquant premise and accessible, engaging text... that will invite both reluctant and enthusiastic literati to reconsider their possessions. It also cries out to be a classroom read or even readaloud."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, STARRED review
Linda Sue Park
Linda Sue Park is the author of many novels and picture books, including A Single Shard, the 2002 Newbery Medal winner, and the New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water. Her most recent title is Prairie Lotus, historical fiction for middle grade readers. She is honored to serve on the advisory boards for SCBWI, WNDB, and the Rabbit hOle museum project. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @LindaSuePark.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author of Where Are My Books?. Her illustrations also appear in Sea Monkey and Bob, written by Aaron Reynolds; I'm Bored (a New York Times Notable Book), Naked!, and I'm Sorry, written by Michael Ian Black; as well as ten Judy Blume chapter books and middle grade titles. For more info, visit or @InkyElbows on Twitter.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Clarion Books
Publication date
March 20, 2021
BISAC categories
JUV039050 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emotions & Feelings
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV070000 - Juvenile Fiction | Poetry (see also Stories in Verse)
JUV029030 - Juvenile Fiction | Nature & the Natural World | Disasters
Library of Congress categories
Novels in verse
Middle school students
Choice (Psychology)
Decision making
Personal belongings
Decision making in children
Choice (Psychology) in children
Texas Bluebonnet Master List
Selection 2022 - 2023
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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