A SINGLE SHARD
by Linda Sue Park
Park, Linda Sue. A SINGLE SHARD. New York: Clarion
Books, 2001. ISBN 0-395-97827-0.
This is the story of Tree-ear, a thirteen-year-old boy in twelfth-century Korea who lives under a bridge with Crane-man,
a crippled weaver, and dreams of being able to create the beautiful celadon pottery his village is known for. When Tree-ear
gets the opportunity to become helper of Min, a master potter, it appears that his dream will come true.
The setting for this story is Ch’ulp’o, a seaside village renowned
for the many artisans who live there, and for the unique clay which produces pottery of celadon green. In addition to details
about the physical environment of the story, such as the village’s proximity to both the mountains and the sea, Linda
Sue Park provides insight into how a community of artists in twelfth-century Korea functioned. The narrative gives details
of the daily routines, such as chopping wood for the community kiln and cutting clay from the riverbank. We also learn of
the customs of the time, such as villagers greeting one another with “Have you eaten well today?” and, in an emotional
moment near the end of the story, that the trade of potter was traditionally passed
from father to son.
All of the characters in the story seem real and believable and we learn much about them through their actions.
In the opening pages of the book, we see Tree-ear faced with the moral dilemma of whether to tell a man he sees on the road
that the box he is carrying is leaking a trail of rice. He knows that if he doesn’t say anything, he could collect the
rice to share with Crane-man. As the man approaches a bend in the road, Tree-ear decides to do the right thing and hails the
man. His actions provide insight into his moral center, and help the reader anticipate how he will react we tested later in
the book. Throughout the story, we also see evidence of his work ethic, his sense of duty to Crane-man (he shares the meals
and clothing provided by the potter’s wife) and his determination to realize his dream of becoming a potter. We learn
a about Crane-man’s character from advice he gives to Tree-ear, “Foraging
in the woods and rubbish heaps, gathering fallen grain-heads in the autumn – these were honorable ways to garner a meal…
but stealing and begging…made a man no better than a dog.” (p. 6-7) We learn of the potter, Min, and his wife
in the same manner. We see Min create what appear, to Tree-ear, to be beautiful pieces of pottery, only to smash them disgustedly
because they do not meet his own stringent standards and he is gruff and strident in his dealings with Tree-ear. Min’s
wife, on the other hand, is shown as kindhearted; she refills Tree-ear’s bowl with food for him to share with Crane-man
and gives him warm clothing for the winter.
This beautiful story of perseverance, creativity and loyalty is told in simple language which reflects the flavor
of twelfth-century Korea. Park’s historically accurate narrative makes this period come to life by re-creating the physical
environment, the patterns of daily living, and the spirit of the times. She has not sugar-coated the daily struggles of Tree-ear
and Crane-man; they are homeless and forage in other people’s trash for food. By telling the story from the perspective
of a thirteen-year-old boy, Park provides young readers with a sense of connection with the past, and also helps them to see
that some things are unchanging. The actions of Tree-ear, which exemplify honor, integrity, and honesty, reflect the values
and morals of the times, but are still relevant today. All who read this wonderful book will be touched by the sacrifices
made by the characters and inspired that, with hard work, their dreams may also come true.