A Single Shard
Author: Linda Sue Park
Copyright Date: 2001
Reading Level: 6th grade
Length: 152 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot Summary: A Single Shard is the story of a young orphan in 12th century Korea who is determined to learn the art of potter. The novel begins introducing us to Tree-Ear, a 12 year old orphan, and Crane-man, a lovable one-legged man who has cared for Tree-Ear most of his life. The two live under a bridge and scavenge for food. Tree-Ear, fascinated by the art of potter, watches a local master, Min, throw vases on a potter wheel. One day, he sneaks into the potter’s working place, and begins admiring the work. Startled by Min’s entrance, Tree-Ear drops one of the pieces of art, and finds himself working for the master. As he continues to work, the young boy slowly gains a vast knowledge of pottery, and an even stronger desire to learn of the craft. A year later, a royal emissary from China comes to choose a potter for a royal commission. Kang, a local potter, is chosen in spite of his shoddy work due to his idea of inlaid design. Min is promised that if he can produce the same design with greater work, that he may have the commission. Min finishes the pots, and Tree-Ear embarks to Songdo, the capital, to present Min’s work before the emissary. On his way, he encounters a couple of robbers who destroy Min’s work. In an excellent show of bravery, Min brings a shard from the broken vases to present to the emissary. Though annoyed at first, the emissary inspects the shard and promises Min the commission. When Tree-Ear returns to tell of the joyful news of the commission, he learns that Crane-man was killed by the collapse of the bridge. Tree-Ear is devastated, and feels abandoned. Min and Ajima decide to adopt Tree-Ear, and allow him to take up the art of pottery. As Tree-Ear, now known as Hyung-pil, looks around him, he tries to come up with a design worthy of a celadon vase. At the end of the story, we are told of the finest piece of celadon pottery, known as the Thousand Cranes Vase, alluding to his continued love for Crane-man.
My Reaction: I loved this book. I enjoyed learning more about the Korean culture during the 12th century, and about the importance of celadon glaze. I particularly enjoy the author’s close following of historical fact, and the historical explanation at the end of the book. In addition, I thought this story held great emotional weight, as it dealt with tragedy and loss in a productive manner. A Single Shard teaches that dignity, courage and humor are our best tools in overcoming trials and accomplishing our goals. I felt this was a interesting read, with characters that are emotionally accessible to the reader.
Potential Problems: The book also deals with superstition, which may pose a problem for younger children who are somewhat impressionable. Robbers attack Tree-Ear, and threaten to kill him, which may frighten younger children. The main character’s best friend dies, which may make this book hard to read for children who are dealing with grief and loss.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book to sixth- to ninth graders who enjoy foreign cultures and are struggling with grief or loss. I also would recommend that teachers use this book to help students better understand Korean culture, and the importance of celadon pottery in Asian history. As this is a harder read, I would not recommend this book to younger children, who may be bored by the historical aspect, and frightened the by the violence in the book.