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Peacebound Trains_

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Author: Haemi Balgassi
Illustrator: Chris K. Soentpiet

Gr 2-5/Ages 7+
48 pages/picture-chapter book
7½" X 9"
ISBN #0-618-04030-7 paperback
$6.95 US

Clarion Books imprint of:
Houghton Mifflin
215 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10003
(800) 225-3362

  • Winner of the 1996 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal
  • American Bookseller Pick of the List 1996
  • IRA Notable Children's Book for a Global Society
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
  • Smithsonian's Notable Book 1996
  • San Francisco Chronicles Best Book List
  • Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field
    of Social Studies 1997

Yin and I at the Society of Illustrator's Original Art
Show receiving the Gold Medal for PEACEBOUND TRAINS.
The United States Department of Defense published an online edition of the book
and featured it, complete with a Teacher Activity Guide, on the United States of America Korean War Commemoration site. Peacebound Trains is the only book to receive this honor.

While her mother is in the army, Sumi living with her grandmother, on East Blossom Hill. Perched on her wind through the valley below, hears the lonely sound of their whistles piercing the air, and longs for the day when her mother will return.

The train whistle reminds Sumi's grandmother of a time when a train played an important role in her life too: long ago in Korea, when she and her family escaped Seoul at the last moment before war came. In poetic language and exquisite paintings, Peacebound Trains vividly evokes the landscape and people of Korea and a special grandmother-granddaughter relationship.

This is my first picture/chapter book. The author, has a talent for detail, and as she described how Sumi watches trains wind through the valley below, hears the lonely sound of their whistles piercing the air, and longs for the day when her mother will return, I was there with her. Going back to South Korea for the research of this story was another reason I decided to illustrate this story. It gave me a chance to visit my biological brother and three sisters whom I haven't seen since I was adopted at 8 years old. It was a happy reunion. A year later, the illustrations for this book received a gold medal from the Society of Illustrator’s Original Art Show in New York City. That honor is a wonderful and humble tribute to my family in Korea. -Chris Soentpiet

My inspiration for this story was a gift from two courageous women: my grandmother and my mother. When I was a young girl, my grandmother shared with me the story of her harrowing rooftop train ride during the first harsh winter of the Korean War. My grandmother passed away when I was eleven, but her story stayed with me. When I was in high school, I asked my mother to tell me what she remembered of that rooftop train ride. My mother added another layer to my grandmother's story-the memories she'd carried since she rode the train as a five year old. Her sisters, my aunts, also made the trip. I knew then that, one day, I would write a story based on my family's experience in the Korean War. And a decade later, I did. I titled it PEACEBOUND TRAINS, after the train that has haunted me since my grandmother told me about it all those years. -Haemi Balgassi


A lovely combination picture book/chapter book based, on family memories about the trauma of leaving a beloved home for fear of an invading army; in this case, there is the added tragedy of civil war, with brother fighting brother as South Korea and the Communist North battle over Seoul. In expressive watercolors, Soentpiet provides an accurate look at Korean culture of the 1950s as well as Sumi's contemporary setting.
-Kirkus Reviews

The text, divided into short chapters, is gracefully written and told with great emotion. The richly colored illustrations are splashed with light, and convey the unfolding drama. Facial expressions are particularly effective. Readers will come away from this book with the understanding that the struggle for peace is universal and timeless, and that sometimes sacrifices must be made to achieve it.
-School Library Journal

Powerful Narrative
-The New York Times Book Review

For copies in Korean, contact:
DongSanSa Publishing Company
ISBN # 89-954622-5-6
or order copies from this site

Theme: PEACEBOUND TRAINS can be used to introduce your students to the Korean War, refugees, multigenerational families, grandmothers, parents in the military, transportation, geography.

Background: On June 25, 1950 communist troops from North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. The 38th parallel was assigned as the demarcation point between North and South Korea at the end of World War II. Troops form 22 countries came together under the banner of the newly created United Nations to fight the communist forces from North Korea, China and the Soviet Union. Many families in South Korea, like the family in the book, were forced to flee to safer places. The fighting between North and South Korea continued until July 27, 1953 when a cease-fire was negotiated but an armistice was never signed. Today, North and South Korea remain divided at the 38th parallel. North Korea is still a communist country and South Korea is a democratic country. American troops still remain in South Korea.

Pre-reading: Show the students the cover of the book, read the title, author and illustrators name. Ask them what they think the book will be about. Next show the illustration of the modern train -- now what do they think the book will be about. Ask if anyone has ever taken a train ride. Where did they go? Did the train look more like the one on the cover or the one inside the book? Was the train crowded? Where did they ride? Set the location of the book -- tell the students the book has a story within a story. Explain that the grandmother will tell a story that happened many years ago. Have the students look at a globe or world map to locate Korea and the United States.

Reading: As you read and show the illustrations have the students look closely at the drawings. What details can they find in the pictures? Have them look closely at the expressions on the faces for the characters -- how do they change during the story. Ask the students how they think the characters are feeling. Can they tell by the illustrations? Don't forget to ask how they think Sumi's mother is feeling -- even though there are no illustrations of her mother the students can guess. Have a map near by to see how far it is from Seoul to Pusan.

Post-reading: Have the students plan a train trip. The students can do this in small groups or altogether. Suggestion -- plan a modern day trip from Seoul to Pusan and then compare and contrast that trip with the trip in the book. Did they like the ending of the book -- rewrite the ending.

Colors: The author uses vivid descriptions of the character's eyes. Have students find these in the text and then see if they can write some of their own to describe a classmate's eyes or another item. Example: milk-chocolate eyes; chestnut-brown eyes etc.

Interview: Talk with a Korean War Veteran -- then write their story. Talk with a grandparent, or another relative or friend who has moved -- write their story.

Geography: Have the students plan a trip across the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. Ask them to estimate the miles, how long will it take, what will they need to bring -- food, clothes, entertainment items, books etc. What do the think they will see along the way -- will the see rivers, mountains, lakes, deserts, plains, farms, factories, cities etc.

Locate Korea on a world map. Tell the students that many countries sent troops to fight in the Korean War. Have the students locate the countries on the map. How many continents are represented -- list the continents and place the participating countries under the correct continent. Which continent is not represented?

Science: Plan meals for the proposed train trip -- use the food pyramid remember snacks and any special foods family members might require.

Farms and farming -- where does our food come from? What is a rice paddy? Try growing plants in a variety of ways -- soil, hydroponics etc. keep a journal of their growth.

In the story the family had to cross a river with heavy currents. Explore currents and how rivers flow. Do lakes have currents, what other bodies of water have currents?

Social Studies: Spend more time studying the Korean War. Cobblestone magazine has a special edition devoted to the Korean War.

Talk about immigration -- are there any immigrants in the class -- list the countries the students ancestors came from are any of them a country that fought in the Korean War?

Make a guidebook to Korea -- cover topics like cities, geographical features, customs, traditions, folklore, early history, food, games, traditional dress.

Literature: Read another book about Korea and the Korean War, DEAR JUNO by Soyung Pak, THE NAME JAR by Yangsook Choi. Look for other books by Haemi Balgassi or Chris Soentpiet. If you really enjoyed PEACEBOUND TRAINS write a review and post it on-line at or so others can enjoy your reading experience.

Art: Make a yarn and paper rag doll.

Make a life-size paper doll. Have students pick partners. Then have the students take turns making tracings of each other on brown wrapping paper. Now have the students cut out the tracings and decorate the paper dolls with scraps of paper, fabric, yarn, and other craft items -- don't forget magazine pictures.

Make paper dolls to represent the characters in the story or children and adults in traditional Korean dress.

Graphic Organizers and bulletin board pattern:

Train graphic organizer -- use the modern and old style train cars to list the events of each story. Example: Use the modern engine for the first event in the story about Sumi or use the old style caboose for the last event in the grandmother's story. Use the boxcars to list the events of the story. Post the trains around the room.

Bulletin Board -- use the "sack" to have each student list what they would pack if the had to leave home suddenly -- remember they will have to carry the "sack" so no televisions please!


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