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…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.
Tree-ear is an orphan, living in twelfth-century Korea. His home is under a bridge with Crane-man, a gentle, wise, crippled man who cares for Tree-ear, while teaching him how to survive and how to live with honesty and dignity.
At some point, Tree-ear becomes attuned to the incredible artistry of the local master potter, Min — one of the famed medieval Korean potters whose celadon work is still prized. In a moment of curiosity overcoming sound judgement, Tree-ear sneaks into Min’s workshop, picks up a fabulous piece to admire, and then accidentally breaks it. As compensation, Tree-ear goes to work for Min, laboring long, hard hours.
Tree-ear does his work faithfully, all the while harboring a secret dream to learn the potter’s trade himself. But Min is a cantankerous, perfectionistic fellow with only one real dream left — that of obtaining a royal commission from the King’s Court. When Min’s dream seems doomed to failure, Tree-ear sets out on a dangerous journey to gain the honor he knows Min deserves. It’s a journey which requires every scrap of Tree-ear’s grit and every nugget of Crane-ear’s wise teachings.
Linda Sue Park won the Newbery Medal for this book in 2002 and it was richly deserved. Her characters work their way into our hearts; she weaves in oodles of fascinating details about the potters of the Koryo era without ever losing us or the pacing of the plot; she mixes in just the right measure of both humor and poignancy; and her writing!!! Ahhhh…it moves along like a cat on velvet paws. Beautiful. The supreme effort she must have given to this work results in an almost effortless reading on our part.
I just finished reading this book with a Boys’ Book Club, where 9 boys, ages 11-14, gave it a very high rating. I asked them what I should say to you about the book, and they said: “It’s easy reading.” “You can relate to it.” “It’s really interesting.” “It’s about courage.” And, “Tell them it’s a great book and you should read it!” They recommend it highly for ages 11 and up. (Many thanks to Aaron, Eastman, Eric, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, Keith, Reid, and Stephen!)
Here’s the Amazon link: A Single Shard