The Turtle Ship

The Turtle Ship

3.91 (154 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author)  , Illustrated by 

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A young Korean boy named Sun-sin designs one of the greatest battleships in history and fulfills his dream of sailing the world.

Long ago in Korea, a young boy named Sun-sin spent his days playing with his pet turtle Gobugi and dreaming of sailing around the world. As a poor villager, though, his dream to travel seemed impossible. Then one day, the king's court announced a contest to find the best design for a new battleship to defend the land from invaders. The winner would sail the ocean with the royal navy.

Determined to win, Sun-sin attempts to build an indestructible battleship with a few found items. Each attempt fails miserably against the powerful sea, and with it Sun-sin's dream also sinks to the bottom. Turning to Gobugi for comfort, Sun-sin notices how his pet turtle is small but mighty, slow but steady, and impossible to sink. Suddenly, Sun-sin has a great idea.

Loosely based on the true story of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship, this delightful tale by debut author Helena Ku Rhee and debut illustrator Colleen Kong-Savage introduce young readers to a fascinating episode in Korean history and naval engineering.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 32 pages
  • 211 x 269 x 8mm | 408g
  • New York City, United States
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1885008902
  • 9781885008909
  • 941,948

Review quote

* Rhee tells the legend of Sun-sin and his best friend, a turtle named Gobugi, and how they came to invent the Turtle Ship. After hearing that the Emperor is holding a contest for the best battleship design, Sun-sin presents Gobugi as inspiration for a great vessel, having witnessed the turtle's smart physical design. At first the Emperor rejects the idea, but after seeing Gobugi survive an encounter with a cat, he declares Sun-sin the winner, making history. The plot is loosely based on a true story, but reads like a delightful folktale that skillfully incorporates moral lessons about strength and appearances. The vocabulary is simple enough for the audience, and the text is well formatted on the page. There is one battle scene, though nothing too heavy or graphic is depicted. Kong-Savage's collage illustrations bring the story to life through almost 3-D imagery and are beautiful to look at. The use of muted colors to depict the home of Sun-sin contrasts nicely with the brighter colors of the Emperor's palace, creating an excellent source of tension. The illustrators and the narrative work together wonderfully to tell this fascinating episode in Korean naval history. VERDICT A great mix of myth and history for most picture book collections. -- School Library Journal, starred review

Rhee's smoothly paced story arc will read aloud well, while Kong-Savage's striking, precise paper-collage scenes are equally effective in conveying the sweeping drama of ocean views and the personality and warmth in close-ups of Gobugi's small, green face. An afterword about the story's historical roots closes this engaging tale with a strong STEM focus from two debut creators. -- Publishers Weekly

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 [Gobugi] to design an iconic battle ship. Rhee economically narrates Sun-sin's many trial 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. [T]his debut packs a double punch modeling the experimental process while spotlighting an intriguing historical figure and his warcraft. -- Kirkus Reviews
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About Helena Ku Rhee

HELENA KU RHEE works at a movie studio by day and is a children's book writer by night. Born in South Korea, she grew up listening to mighty tales of the Turtle Ship and Admiral Yi Sunsin from her parents and grandparents. Helena loves the idea that since nobody is 100% certain about the origins of the Turtle Ship design, it could very well have been a small, quiet turtle who inspired the creation of one of the greatest battleships of all time. This is her picture book debut. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and you can find her online at

COLLEEN KONG-SAVAGE is a full-time illustrator and graphic designer. When she first moved to New York City, Kong-Savage worked at an art supply store, where she spent half her paycheck on decorative papers. For this debut picture book, she spent countless hours researching the clothes, living conditions, and landscape of the Joseon Dynasty, and then finding the right paper for each item. The papers used in this book come from around the world, including Korea where traditional paper is handmade from mulberry bark. Kong-Savage lives in New York City. You can visit her online at
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Rating details

154 ratings
3.91 out of 5 stars
5 21% (32)
4 52% (80)
3 25% (38)
2 3% (4)
1 0% (0)
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