Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park

Like Seesaw Girl, this book deals with choices in life. Some choices we can choose: the choice of occupation, the choice of attitude, the choice of following traditions. Some choices we cannot choose: choice of being a boy or girl, the choice of siblings, or the choice of birth order. Young-sup is second to his brother, Kee-sup, where 15th century Korean traditions are such that their father treats the second son different than the first son. The firstborn is the only sibling that gets to go to the ancestors gravesite, study to become a scholar, and make decisions in the family. The unfairness of the treatment boils beneath the surface of Young-sup who wants his father to notice him the same as Kee-sup.

Kee-sup gets a kite for the New Year's celebration while the jealous Young-sup gets a board game. Young-sup begs to fly the kite with Kee-sup who says, no, at first only to relent as he tires of his limited success flying the kite. Unlike his brother, Young-sup is a natural as he launches the kite into the air almost immediately knowing instinctively when the wind is right and how much rope to reel in or let out. He teaches his brother how to fly and the two have great fun on the hillside each day with the new toy. When the kite gets damaged, Kee-sup rebuilds it and his skill in craftsmanship turns the tables where he teaches Young-sup how to make a kite.

The young king sees the boys kite flying and asks them to build him a kite to enter in the New Year's competition. The kite flying competition involves "fighting" where the kite flyers try to knock each others kites to the ground or cut the lines. The king wants Young-sup to fly it and Kee-sup to build it. Thrilled with the request, Kee-sup struggles over the construction of the kite while Young-sup and their father support him in his efforts. When the time comes for the competition, their father says that the oldest son should fly it causing Young-sup to angrily confront his brother about the unfairness of him being number one. He's really mad at the culture's traditional role of the firstborn son, but he can't discuss it with his parents and takes his frustration out on his brother. In an exciting climax the two figure out a way to use the traditions to their advantage, yet not be disrespectful toward their father.

The passion Young-sup has for kite flying is described in such vivid detail it made me think of those things I'm passionate about doing. The siblings show how they can have great fun together and great disagreements. Young-sup's anger is authentic afterwards he recognizes that he can't direct his fury at his father so instead he takes it out on his brother. Both boys are thoughtful, kind, selfish, and creative. Their well-rounded characters drive this story forward at a fast clip. Even the father and young king change in ways that made me vested in what happens to all of them.

The plot is wrapped up nicely. Park doesn't leave unresolved issues in her stories. Even the stall owner of the kites has a part I didn't expect. The brothers make many choices and while most are good there are other times they are selfish. This makes them all the more real to the reader and in the end, they show graciousness in winning, wisdom in dealing with their father, and courage to reach their goals. A terrific story that is going to appeal to all readers.

Reading Level 5.9

5 out of 5 Smileys

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