Synopsis: Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi with illustrations
by Chris K. Soentpiet (Clarion trade paperback, 1996, 48 pages)
is the story of a grandmother and granddaughter. Sumi's mother
is away in the U.S. Army and one day while Sumi is watching
the local train pass by she thinks about the day the train will
bring her mother home. Sumi is joined by her grandmother who
tells the story of a train ride she took many years before.
The story is about Sumi's mother, uncle and grandparents and
the ride they took on a peace bound train while trying to escape
from the communist invasion of South Korea.
Themes: Peacebound Trains can be used to introduce elementary
school students to the Korean War, refugees, multigenerational
families, parents who have jobs that take them away form home,
mother's who serve in the military, and different forms of transportation.
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.
Critical Thinking Activities
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
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.
Find other new words in the story. Add them to the list and
find out what they mean. Use the new words in a story.
The author uses the Korean words for grandmother, grandfather,
mother and father. Have the students make a list of other words
for grandmother, grandfather, etc.
Onomatopoeia: The naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation
of the sound associated with it -- example buzz; hiss. The author
uses TWHOOOOOT for the sound of the train. Have the students
make a list of other words that imitate the sound. Now see how
many of these words they can weave in to a very short story.
Note -- they can be added to the vocabulary list used in a longer
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
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?
Have the students draw their own map of Blossom Hill with the
railroad tracks, the stream, the town, the station etc.
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
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 or look for other books by the author or illustrator --
checkout their websites. If you really enjoyed Peacebound Trains
write them a letter and tell them.
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