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Historical Fiction

Paula's Young Adult Literature Website

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A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Park, Linda Sue. 2001. A Single Shard. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0395978270.


A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, is a recipient of the Newberry Award Medal.  It is a beautifully written book and a true inspiration for those who read it.  Park does an excellent job of creating a lively historical fiction novel that allows the reader to experience another place and time.  The setting is 12th century Korea in a potters’ village called Ch’ul’po.  The protagonist in the story is an orphan that lives under a bridge with his friend Crane-man, a lame straw weaver.  Tree-ear has lived with Crane-man for many years and spends his days foraging for food from rubbish heaps and rice fields for the two of them.  As Tree-ear wanders the potters’ village, he begins to watch Min, a master potter.  Tree-ear is especially drawn to Min, and particularly admires his work.  One day Tree-ear accidentally drops a piece of Min’s work and he offers to work off his debt.  Tree-ear works off his debt, but stays on and continues to work diligently for the master potter.  Linda Sue Park has intricately woven into the story line the way a potters’ village works from chopping wood for the communal kiln to cutting clay to be thrown.  It is Tree-ear’s dream to create a beautiful pot himself.  After a year of working for Min, Tree-ear works up the courage to ask him if he would be so kind as to one day teach him to make a pot.  Min refuses, telling Tree-ear, “Know this, orphaned one, if ever you learn to make a pot, it will not be from me” (page 95).  Tree-ear is very upset by Min’s words.  As Tree-ear continues to work for Min, he selflessly volunteers to go to Songdo to show Min’s celadon pottery work to the royal court.  Through the title of the book, A Single Shard, Park foreshadows the events that are about to come as Tree-ear begins his journey to Songdo.  Tree-ear is attacked by robbers and the two pieces of pottery are destroyed.  Min refuses to return in humiliation to the village.  In his determination, not to let Min and his wife down, Tree-ear finds a single shard of the finely etched bowl Min had made and continues his journey to Songdo.  Through courage and determination Tree-ear finally makes it to the royal court.  After showing Min’s work to the king, Tree-ear is told that Min will be given a royal commission to create beautiful pottery for the king.  Upon Tree-ears return to Ch’ul’po, he finds that his wonderful friend Crane-man has died.  The next day, Tree-ear is sent to collect more wood and he feels that nothing has changed.  Everything, however, has changed for Tree-ear.  Min tells him to collect large logs, for how else will he learn to make beautiful pots if he does not have a wheel of his own.  Min and his wife ask Tree-ear to live with them and to change his name to Hyung-pil, a name that shared a syllable with their son that had died, an honor bestowed only upon siblings.  Tree-ear was no longer an orphan.  The characters in the story are strong and well developed.  Min is a grumpy perfectionist, always barking orders at Tree-ear and throwing away items that do not meet his satisfaction.  Min’s wife is a kind and gentle woman.  Throughout the story Tree-ear is portrayed as respectful, honest, hard working and a true friend.  Linda Sue Park effectively creates beautiful relationships among the characters.  For example, Min’s wife would feed Tree-ear daily, and each day he would save half of his food for his friend, Crane-man.  However, by day’s end the food bowl would be filled to the brim by Ajima for Tree-ear’s return home.  Linda Sue Park has created a story that illustrates hard work and determination can provide limitless possibilities for all, ones at a disadvantage.  The theme of friendship prevails throughout the entire story and Park has captured the true spirit of friendship between Tree-ear and Crane-man.  The book concludes with an author’s note providing information to the reader about celadon pottery, and the resources she used to create the book.  Horn Book Guide refers to the story as “alive with fascinating information about life and art in ancient Korea.”  This is a wonderful novel brilliantly crafted with elements of fiction and nonfiction for all to enjoy. 



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