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)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Park (Seesaw Girl) molds a moving tribute to perseverance and creativity in this finely etched novel set in mid- to late 12th-century Korea. In Ch'ul'po, a potter's village, Crane-man (so called because of one shriveled leg) raises 10-year-old orphan Tree Ear (named for a mushroom that grows "without benefit of "parent-seed"). Though the pair reside under a bridge, surviving on cast-off rubbish and fallen grains of rice, they believe "stealing and begging... made a man no better than a dog." From afar, Tree Ear admires the work of the potters until he accidentally destroys a piece by Min, the most talented of the town's craftsmen, and pays his debt in servitude for nine days. Park convincingly conveys how a community of artists works (chopping wood for a communal kiln, cutting clay to be thrown, etc.) and effectively builds the relationships between characters through their actions (e.g., Tree Ear hides half his lunch each day for Crane-man, and Min's soft-hearted wife surreptitiously fills the bowl). She charts Tree Ear's transformation from apprentice to artist and portrays his selflessness during a pilgrimage to Songdo to show Min's work to the royal court he faithfully continues even after robbers shatter the work and he has only a single shard to show. Readers will not soon forget these characters or their sacrifices. Ages 10-14. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In a starred review of this Newbery Medal winner, PW wrote, "The author 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." Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This novel is a great book for young readers who enjoy historical fiction. They will enjoy learning about clay and about how artists in twelfth-century Korea made works of art. They also will like the character of Tree-ear and the way he matures and grows up. The ending brings both a happy and sad tear to the eye. This recommended book is a quick read for young teens. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Clarion, 152p,
Anna Yu (aka anna banana), Teen Reviewer
This beautifully-crafted tale of an orphan boy named Tree-ear takes place in 12th century Korea in the small potter's village of Ch'ulp'o. Tree-ear (named after a mushroom that grows on a tree without a parent seed) lives under a bridge with his one-legged friend, Crane-man, (hence the name) surviving on scraps pulled from rubbish heaps and rice foraged from fields. They possess a fierce integrity that keeps them from begging and stealing and share a friendship akin to father and son. Each day Tree-ear goes to the bushes behind the studio of the brilliant potter, Min, who works outside. Tree-ear dreams of one day making a pot of his own. After breaking one of Min's wares, Tree-ear is obligated to work for Min to make amends for the accident. He works diligently for the gruff old potter, collecting wood for the local kiln and retrieving and preparing clay for his master. Min's work is so admired that the king's emissary has requested a sample to be considered for a royal commission. Tree-ear, being young and in good health, travels by foot the long distance to the royal court to present two of Min's beautiful prune vases to the emissary. Along the way he is confronted with challenges both frightening and rewarding, which ultimately change his life and the lives of those around him. This moving story captures a moment in Korean history when the mystery, magic and fortitude of true artisans were valued as they dedicated their lives to create things beautiful to behold. 2001, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin, $15.00. Ages 9 to 14. Reviewer: Karen Deans
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Linda Sue Park's 2002 Newbery Award-winning story (Clarion, 2001) about Tree-ear, a 12th century Korean orphan who finds his future through his intuitive interest in the potter's trade, is nicely rendered by Graeme Malcolm. Tree-ear's early years have been spent in the care of the homeless but inventive Crane-man, who has taught him to find a meal among what other villagers have rejected as scrap and shelter beneath a bridge or in an old kimchee cellar, as the season dictates. Now about 12 years old, Tree-ear extends his social and labor habits to an elderly and idiosyncratic potter, first because Tree-ear must repay Min for a pot he damaged when he touched it without permission, and then as Min's helper, a job for which he is paid in food and the motherly affection of Min's wife. In a village renowned for its pottery, those in the trade eagerly anticipate a visit from the representative of the Korean court, each potter hoping that his designs will be selected for royal use. Tree-ear discovers a rival potter's invention of a new surface design technique that he knows Min could use to better effect than does the inventor. Eventually, the technique is revealed and Min is able to adapt it to his excellent work, sending Tree-ear on a long and dangerous journey to court with two sample pieces. By the time Tree-ear arrives, he has but a single shard to show the court's pottery expert. Malcolm's light British accent is clear and adds a sense of "another place, another time" to this tale. However, many of the issues transcend centuries and cultures: What is home? Can one own a creative idea? How much of an art object must be seen in order to judge its quality? This book will engage both individual readers and discussion groups; the audio version makes it accessible to a broader audience, while giving style and substance to those who have read the print version.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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
Children's Books: 100 Titles NYPL
Booklist, Editor's Choice
Read an Excerpt
"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 onceonly 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 fortunea 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 himquickly! Before he loses too much rice!
No! Don't say anythingyou 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 autumnthese 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 sharpand 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 patiencehe said it himself. He had not wanted to wait for a sturdier container to be built. And he could not be 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-manor 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 handsten 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 yearalready on two legs and able to talk."