A Single Shard

by: 
Linda Sue Park

Tree-Ear is an orphan boy, living under a bridge in Korea in the 1100s.  Although he lives during a time in Korean history when there was almost no homelessness -- because Buddhist monks took in those who had no family -- Tree-Ear has only Crane-Man, another homeless man, too look after him.  Tree-Ear lives in a community that is famous for making Celedon pottery and one day, after a potter catches him watching him work, Tree-Ear becomes an apprentice to the potter, suddenly having enough to eat (and enough to bring back to the bridge to share with Crane-Man). When a royal emissary comes to the village to find a new royal potter, Tree-Ear deeply hopes that his master, the most talented potter in the village will be selected.  But his vases are all tainted and he smashes them.  The emissary, who had seen the promise in his work, asks Tree-Ear's master to make something and send it to the capital -- a trip that Tree-Ear makes once two perfect vases are completed.  When Tree-Ear is set upon by robbers, who smash the vases, he despairs, finally deciding to finish his journey with a single beautiful shard: a shard the wins Tree-Ear's master a commission and Tree-Ear a proper apprenticeship.  This beautiful book explores the complicated relationships between orphan and those who have lost a child, the homeless and the homed, the proud and those who might want to help them.  Through an interesting period in history (and a very particular trade) Park writes about social class and family relations, as well as disability and grief, in ways that you barely notice because you're so interested in what will happen to the pottery

Reading Level: 
Heads up - topics in this book that might require further discussion: 
Death of a parent/close family member
Death of main character
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Yes