A Single Shard

A Single Shard

3.9 122
by Linda Sue Park

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters' village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When

…  See more details below


In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters' village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Linda Sue Park's novels are distinctive for their focus on various aspects of Korean history. A Single Shard, the winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal, is a tenderly rendered tale about a 12th-century Korean boy named Tree-ear, who must overcome a host of obstacles in order to attain his life's dream.

Orphaned as a toddler, Tree-ear (named after a type of mushroom that grows out of a tree without the benefit of parent seeds) has been raised by a kindly, crippled weaver named Crane-man (so named because he has only one good leg). Over the years, they have eked out a meager but relatively happy existence living under a bridge and scavenging for food, though never stealing or begging. The town they live in, Ch'ulp'o, is renowned for the many artisans who craft the area's unique clay into beautiful celadon pottery. Tree-ear has dreams of one day creating his own pottery, and for this reason, he starts spying on one of the most gifted craftsmen in town, a cranky old codger named Min. When Tree-ear accidentally breaks some of Min's work, he offers to pay for the damage by working off the debt, hoping Min will eventually offer him an apprenticeship.

Things don't go as planned, however. The curmudgeonly Min isn't an easy man to work with, and Tree-ear's dream of creating his own pottery seems more unattainable with each passing day. Things come to a head when Min is offered a shot at a royal commission and Tree-ear offers to carry samples of the artisan's work to the royal court -- a hike of many days across some of Korea's most unforgiving country. The journey is fraught with setbacks that test Tree-ear's courage and integrity, but in the end, he comes to know a triumph of heart, mind, and spirit that will leave him, and Korean history, forever changed.

This delightfully endearing tale is not only entertaining; it's inspirational and educational. Tree-ear's decisions and actions in the face of several ethical dilemmas exemplify honor, honesty, and integrity at their best, setting a fine example for young readers to follow. And Park's vivid portrayal of this era in Korean history offers a colorful introduction to a culture and an art form that might otherwise go unknown. (Beth Amos)

Read More

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
920L (what's this?)
File size:
503 KB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

"Eh, Tree-ear! Have you hungered well today?" Crane-man called out as Tree-ear drew near the bridge.

The well-fed of the village greeted each other politely by saying, "Have you eaten well today?" Tree-ear and his friend turned the greeting inside out for their own little joke.

Tree-ear squeezed the bulging pouch that he wore at his waist. He had meant to hold back the good news, but the excitement spilled out of him. "Crane-man! A good thing that you greeted me so just now, for later today we will have to use the proper words!" He held the bag high. Tree-ear was delighted when Crane-man’s eyes widened in surprise. He knew that Crane-man would guess at once—only one thing could give a bag that kind of smooth fullness. Not carrot-tops or chicken bones, which protruded in odd lumps. No, the bag was filled with rice. Crane-man raised his walking crutch in a salute. "Come, my young friend! Tell me how you came by such a fortune—a tale worth hearing, no doubt!"

Tree-ear had been trotting along the road on his early-morning perusal of the village rubbish heaps. Ahead of him a man carried a heavy load on a jiggeh, an open-framed backpack made of branches. On the jiggeh was a large woven-straw container, the kind commonly used to carry rice.

Tree-ear knew that the rice must be from last year’s crop; in the fields surrounding the village this season’s rice had only just begun to grow. It would be many months before the rice was harvested and the poor allowed to glean the fallen grain from the bare fields. Only then would they taste the pure flavor of rice and feel its solid goodness in their bellies. Just looking at the straw box made water rush into Tree- ear’s mouth.

The man had paused in the road and hoisted the wooden jiggeh higher on his back, shifting the cumbersome weight. As Tree-ear stared, rice began to trickle out of a hole in the straw box. The trickle thickened and became a stream. Oblivious, the man continued on his way.

For a few short moments Tree-ear’s thoughts wrestled with one another. Tell him—quickly! Before he loses too much rice! No! Don’t say anything—you will be able to pick up the fallen rice after he rounds the bend . . .

Tree-ear made his decision. He waited until the man had reached the bend in the road, then ran to catch him.

"Honorable sir," Tree-ear said, panting and bowing. "As I walked behind you, I noticed that you are marking your path with rice!" The farmer turned and saw the trail of rice. A well-built man with a broad suntanned face, he pushed his straw hat back, scratched his head, and laughed ruefully. "Impatience," said the farmer. "I should have had this container woven with a double wall. But it would have taken more time. Now I pay for not waiting a bit longer." He struggled out of the jiggeh’s straps and inspected the container. He prodded the straw to close the gap but to no avail, so he threw his arms up in mock despair. Tree-ear grinned. He liked the farmer’s easygoing nature. "Fetch me a few leaves, boy," said the farmer. Tree-ear complied, and the man stuffed them into the container as a temporary patch.

The farmer squatted to don the jiggeh. As he started walking, he called over his shoulder. "Good deserves good, urchin. The rice on the ground is yours if you can be troubled to gather it." "Many thanks, kind sir!" Tree-ear bowed, very pleased with himself. He had made a lucky guess, and his waist pouch would soon be filled with rice.

Tree-ear had learned from Crane-man’s example. Foraging in the woods and rubbish heaps, gathering fallen grain-heads in the autumn—these were honorable ways to garner a meal, requiring time and work. But stealing and begging, Crane-man said, made a man no better than a dog.

"Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away," he often said.

Following Crane-man’s advice was not always easy for Tree-ear. Today, for example. Was it stealing, to wait as Tree-ear had for more rice to fall before alerting the man that his rice bag was leaking? Did a good deed balance a bad one? Tree-ear often pondered these kinds of questions, alone or in discussion with Crane-man.

"Such questions serve in two ways," Crane-man had explained. "They keep a man’s mind sharp—and his thoughts off his empty stomach." Now, as always, he seemed to know Tree-ear’s thoughts without hearing them spoken. "Tell me about this farmer," he said. "What kind of man was he?" Tree-ear considered the question for several moments, stirring his memory. At last, he answered, "One who lacks patience—he said it himself. He had not wanted to wait for a sturdier container to be built. And he could not bee bothered to pick up the fallen rice." Tree- ear paused. "But he laughed easily, even at himself." "If he were here now, and heard you tell of waiting a little longer before speaking, what do you think he would say or do?" "He would laugh," Tree-ear said, surprising himself with the speed of his response. Then, more slowly, "I think . . . he would not have minded." Crane-man nodded, satisfied. And Tree-ear thought of something his friend often said: Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.

Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew in wrinkled half- circles on dead or fallen tree trunks, emerging from the rotten wood without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan, Crane-man said. If ever Tree-ear had had another name, he no longer remembered it, nor the family that might have named him so.

Tree-ear shared the space under the bridge with Crane-man—or rather, Crane-man shared it with him. After all, Crane-man had been there first, and would not be leaving anytime soon. The shriveled and twisted calf and foot he had been born with made sure of that.

Tree-ear knew the story of his friend’s name. "When they saw my leg at birth, it was thought I would not survive," Crane-man had said. "Then, as I went through life on one leg, it was said that I was like a crane. But besides standing on one leg, cranes are also a symbol of long life." True enough, Crane-man added. He had outlived all his family and, unable to work, had been forced to sell his possessions one by one, including, at last, the roof over his head. Thus it was that he had come to live under the bridge.

Once, a year or so earlier, Tree-ear had asked him how long he had lived there. Crane-man shook his head; he no longer remembered. But then he brightened and hobbled over to one side of the bridge, beckoning Tree-ear to join him.

"I do not remember how long I have been here," he said, "but I know how long you have." And he pointed upward, to the underside of the bridge. "I wonder that I have not shown you this before." On one of the slats was a series of deep scratches, as if made with a pointed stone. Tree-ear examined them, then shook his head at Crane- man. "So?" "One mark for each spring since you came here," Crane-man explained. "I kept count of your years, for I thought the time would come when you would like to know how old you are." Tree-ear looked again, this time with keen interest. There was a mark for each finger of both hands—ten marks in all. Crane-man answered before Tree-ear asked. "No, you have more than ten years," he said. "When you first came and I began making those marks, you were in perhaps your second year—already on two legs and able to talk." Tree-ear nodded. He knew the rest of the story already. Crane-man had learned but little from the man who had brought Tree-ear to the bridge. The man had been paid by a kindly monk in the city of Songdo to bring Tree-ear to the little seaside village of Ch’ulp’o. Tree-ear’s parents had died of fever, and the monk knew of an uncle in Ch’ulp’o. When the travelers arrived, the man discovered that the uncle no longer lived there, the house having been abandoned long before. He took Tree- ear to the temple on the mountainside, but the monks had been unable to take the boy in because fever raged there as well. The villagers told the man to take the child to the bridge, where Crane-man would care for him until the temple was free of sickness.

"And," Crane-man always said, "when a monk came to fetch you a few months later, you would not leave. You clung to my good leg like a monkey to a tree, not crying but not letting go, either! The monk went away. You stayed." When Tree-ear was younger, he had asked for the story often, as if hearing it over and over again might reveal something more—what his father’s trade had been, what his mother had looked like, where his uncle had gone—but there was never anything more. It no longer mattered. If there was more to having a home than Crane-man and the bridge, Tree-ear had neither knowledge nor need of it. Breakfast that morning was a feast—a bit of the rice boiled to a gruel in a castoff earthenware pot, served up in a bowl carved from a gourd. And Crane-man produced yet another surprise to add to the meal: two chicken leg-bones. No flesh remained on the arid bones, but the two friends cracked them open and worried away every scrap of marrow from inside.

Afterward, Tree-ear washed in the river and fetched a gourd of water for Crane-man, who never went into the river if he could help it; he hated getting his feet wet. Then Tree-ear set about tidying up the area under the bridge. He took care to keep the place neat, for he disliked having to clear a space to sleep at the tired end of the day.

Housekeeping complete, Tree-ear left his companion and set off back up the road. This time he did not zigzag between rubbish heaps but strode purposefully toward a small house set apart from the others at a curve in the road.

Tree-ear slowed as he neared the mud-and-wood structure. He tilted his head, listening, and grinned when the droning syllables of a song- chant reached his ears. The master potter Min was singing, which meant that it was a "throwing" day.

Min’s house backed onto the beginnings of the foothills and their brushy growth, which gave way to pine-wooded mountains beyond. Tree- ear swung wide of the house. Under the deep eaves at the back, Min kept his potter’s wheel. He was there now, his gray head bent over the wheel, chanting his wordless song.

Tree-ear made his way cautiously to his favorite spot, behind a paulownia tree whose low branches kept him hidden from view. He peeped through the leaves and caught his breath in delight. Min was just beginning a new pot.

Min threw a mass of clay the size of a cabbage onto the center of the wheel. He picked it up and threw it again, threw it several times. After one last throw he sat down and stared at the clay for a moment. Using his foot to spin the base of the wheel, he placed dampened hands on the sluggardly lump, and for the hundredth time Tree-ear watched the miracle.

In only a few moments the clay rose and fell, grew taller, then rounded down, until it curved into perfect symmetry. The spinning slowed. The chant, too, died out and became a mutter of words that Tree-ear could not hear.

Min sat up straight. He crossed his arms and leaned back a little, as if to see the vase from a distance. Turning the wheel slowly with his knee, he inspected the graceful shape for invisible faults. Then, "Pah!" He shook his head and in a single motion of disgust scooped up the clay and slapped it back onto the wheel, whereupon it collapsed into an oafish lump again, as if ashamed.

Tree-ear opened his mouth to let out his breath silently, only then realizing that he had been keeping it back. To his eyes the vase had been perfect, its width half its height, its curves like those of a flower petal. Why, he wondered, had Min found it unworthy? What had he seen that so displeased him?

Min never failed to reject his first attempt. Then he would repeat the whole process. This day Tree-ear was able to watch the clay rise and fall four times before Min was satisfied. Each of the four efforts had looked identical to Tree-ear, but something about the fourth pleased Min. He took a length of twine and slipped it deftly under the vase to release it from the wheel, then placed the vase carefully on a tray to dry.

As Tree-ear crept away, he counted the days on his fingers. He knew the potter’s routine well; it would be many days before another throwing day.

The village of Ch’ulp’o faced the sea, its back to the mountains and the river edging it like a neat seam. Its potters produced the delicate celadon ware that had achieved fame not only in Korea but as far away as the court of the Chinese emperor.

Ch’ulp’o had become an important village for ceramics by virtue of both its location and its soil. On the shore of the Western Sea, it had access both to the easiest sea route northward and to plentiful trade with China. And the clay from the village pits contained exactly the right amount of iron to produce the exquisite gray-green color of celadon so prized by collectors.

Tree-ear knew every potter in the village, but until recently he had known them only for their rubbish heaps. It was hard for him to believe that he had never taken the time to watch them at work before. In recent years the pottery from the village kilns had gained great favor among those wealthy enough to buy pieces as gifts for both the royal court and the Buddhist temples, and the potters had achieved new levels of prosperity. The pickings from their rubbish heaps had become richer in consequence, and for the first time Tree-ear was able to forget about his stomach for a few hours each day.

During those hours it was Min he chose to watch most closely. The other potters kept their wheels in small windowless shacks. But in the warm months Min preferred to work beneath the eaves behind his house, open to the breeze and the view of the mountains.

Working without walls meant that Min possessed great skill and the confidence to match it. Potters guarded their secrets jealously. A new shape for a teapot, a new inscribed design—these were things that the potters refused to reveal until a piece was ready to show to a buyer.

Min did not seem to care about such secrecy. It was as if he were saying, Go ahead, watch me. No matter—you will not be able to imitate my skill.

It was true, and it was also the main reason that Tree-ear loved watching Min. His work was the finest in the region, perhaps even in the whole country.

Read More

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Park (Seesaw Girl) molds a moving tribute to perseverance and creativity in this finely etched novel set in mid-to-late 12th century Korea. . . Readers will not soon forget these characters or their sacrifices. Publishers Weekly, Starred

" Intrigues, danger and the same strong focus on doing what is right turn a simple story into a compelling read. . . Tree-ear's story conveys a time and place far away and long ago, but with a simplicity and immediacy that is both graceful and unpretentious. A timeless jewel." Kirkus Reviews with Pointers

Like Park's Seesaw Girl and the Kite Fighters, this book not only gives readers insight an unfamilar time and place, but it is also a great story.
School Library Journal, Starred

This quiet, but involving story draws readers into a very different time and place. Though the society has its own conventions, the hearts and minds and stomachs of the characters are not so far removed from those of people today. Readers will feel the hunger and cold that Tree-ear experiences, as well as his shame, fear, gratitude, and love. A well-crafted novel with an unusual setting.
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

Park's story is alive with fascinating information about life and art in ancient Korea.
Horn Book Guide

A broken piece of pottery sets events in motion as an orphan struggles to pay off his debt to a master potter. This finely crafted novel brings 12th-century Korea and these indelible characters to life.
SLJ Best Books of the Year

null Children's Books: 100 Titles NYPL

null Booklist, Editor's Choice

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

A Single Shard 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books i have read. :) fasinating, adults and childern can both enjoy this book. It was filled with adventure suspences and love. Everyone should try this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am ten and I loved it. It is full of daring and nerve and is slightly sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its a good book at first i thought that it woulfd be the most boring book ever but then i kept reading and it was good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First 50 pages are hard to get into, but the rest is amazing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are reading this in PACT class. It is good so far !
masser23 More than 1 year ago
The characters were well developed and the story was unpredictable. The writing flowed nicely, easy to read & hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book took a while in the intro, but once into the middle of the book, it got exciting! I really liked Crane Man. He is very wise and funny at the same time. :)
trudy moss More than 1 year ago
We are reading this is the 6th grade class pretty good:))
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very boring
Guest More than 1 year ago
THe best book published! Really! You Have to read it . Honestly, it was great!!! (don't judge the book by its cover, if you do that, I gurentee you'll put it back on the shelf). READ IT!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Truly amazing! Great book for students.
Anonymous 18 days ago
I am in honors Ela and we are about to read this book for a novel study. I have heard some people say that it is boring at the beginning and gets interesting as it goes and towards the end. I really hope this is a good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very good. It tells how Tree-ear feels and how something can change his life. P.S. you should know that if you want a honest review, you should click on EQUESTRIA.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its already september 29 2014!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was not only a great read but it spoke to the heart of the reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A boy named Tree-Ear had been being taken care of by a man named Crane-Man. He had been with Crane-Man since he was a little boy. Crane-Man taught Tree-Ear everything he knows. Tree-Ear was an orphan and had no family until Crane-Man appeared. Tree-Ear found out about a man named Min. Min liked to make clay vases and designs, Tree-Ear would watch Min make the clay vases. Tree-Ear loved to see min work on these vases. He hoped he could get a chance to see up close! I’d give this book 3 out of 5. I didn’t finish the book but it wasn’t really my style anyway. It didn’t have as much action in it that I hoped for. There wasn’t really any comedy in it. So far it was an ok book just not what I was interested in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not so sure if I like this book, because it doesn't really have enough action maybe in some parts but not enough for my liking. Also I am not sure if I woulf have picked to read this. Some like it and some don' t, but not everybody that picks it up and reads it will indeed like the book or the thought of content. Not that its bad but like how the srory goes along. For me it went too slow for me to even want to pick it up, but thats just me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book. I am reading this book in class right know with four other girls in my class. If i had to ratethis book know in the middle I would give it 4 1/2 stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whos name is craneman. So dumb. Had to read it for school and was so boring. I hated it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only is the sentence structure difficult to follow but this book condones suicide as a “courageous” option when facing a tough situation! Parents and teachers need to read this before handing it to a child. The story itself in interesting but unfortunately it is hard to read, dull, and has the unnecessary addition of the scene near the end where the young boy is admiring the actions of several women who committed suicide. This section is then followed by his thoughts of committing suicide himself. At no point is suicide advised against, the boy just decides to choose the “other” “courageous” option for handling his responsibilities. I understand that there is an old tradition of suicide being thought of as courageous in several Asian nations, but suicide is a current point of concern for youth here in the USA. The scene was unnecessary to the story and certainly triggers the thoughts that suicide is not really that bad and that it is a viable choice for dealing with difficulty.
wiseowlMN More than 1 year ago
Set in about 1200 and about an orphan, you would think this could hardly be an interesting story, but the author researched the time period  and was able to weave an excellent story based an the culture of the time. A great middle  school read, and I suggest this to anyone who works with clay.