Loosely based on the life of Yi Sun-Sin, a Korean admiral in the 1500s, the story of an inquisitive boy who takes inspiration from his pet turtle to design an iconic battle ship.
Sun-Sin and his pet turtle, Gobugi, are introduced with somewhat copious use of their names: “Sun-sin and Gobugi relaxed in the garden. Gobugi snacked on lettuce while Sun-sin watched ships sail across the sea. Sun-sin would tell Gobugi how he wished to explore the world and visit different lands.” Thankfully both the plot and choice of pronouns quickly diversify when the king announces an open contest to design a new battleship, with a rich prize and a naval commission for the winner. Rhee economically narrates Sun-sin’s many trials and errors until the boy finally realizes the advantages of Gobugi’s natural adaptations and presents his ideas to court. Despite initial resistance and mockery, the royal court witness Gobugi’s natural defenses in action against a cat and commissions the titular Turtle Ship. The splendor of Kong-Savage’s paper collages adds to the storytelling with rich overlapping compositions and patterns. The subsequent successes of Adm. Yi Sun-Sin and his Turtle Ships are rendered beautifully in thoughtfully composed land- and seascapes.
Despite a repetitive start, this debut packs a double punch modeling the experimental process while spotlighting an intriguing historical figure and his warcraft. (afterword, author’s note, illustrator’s note) (Picture book. 6-9)