The author of A Single Shard is Linda Sue Park. The book is published in a series of Dell Yearling books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. It was reprinted in February of 2003, but the specific edition is unstated.
This tale is best summarized as an exploration of character and self via adversity. Basically, early in the novel we become acquainted with Tree-ear and Crane Man. These two are characterized as mirror image like counterparts in the novel; they are poor, struggling to survive and exercise a great deal of influence on each other because they are mutually strengthening. Their mutually strengthening attributes are positivity and humor, respectively. These wonderful attributes keep them on a straight and honest life path, free of the degradation from begging or the crime of stealing. Tree-ear is a bit of a dreamer and dares to dream to become a master potter; however, this dream is restricted by social codes that limit those of low social stature. The local master potter, Min, is Tree-ear’s inspiration. Tree-ear manages to obtain a job from Min performing menial tasks such as chopping wood and digging clay. It is then that he secretly learns the art of pottery. Min develops a new pottery strategy and creates several master pieces by applying color to his beautiful and intricate works. Tree-ear must then deliver these exquisite art pieces to the royal court of the emperor; this is done in hopes that the emperor will recognize Min’s talent and offer him commission. During his journey, Tree-ear is assaulted by bandits and the rare collection of pottery is destroyed. Tree-ear recovers gracefully by collecting a single shard to take to Mr. Kim at the royal court. Mr. Kim can recognize Min’s amazing gift in that single shard and grants him commission. Unfortunately, Crane Man dies by falling into a river and Tree-ear discovers this upon returning. Min and his wife adopt Tree-ear upon his return and resolve to teach him the art of pottery, recognizing the quality of his courage, and potential.
The theme of this book is to always be the very best that you can be, regardless of what challenges you face; the best place to test your convictions to be the best person possible is in the face of adversity, when it is easy to turn your back on the noble path. These concepts are illustrated in several key parts of the novel. For example, though Tree-ear is aware that he is not supposed to be able to attain social mobility as an orphan in his native society, he never relinquishes hope or ambition. Tree-ear also shows great courage when he carries on the single shard to the royal court, even though the entire art works have been destroyed. He is characterized as a very pure and honest character. When Tree-ear discovers that a rival potter has developed a new technique that could bring Min competition, he maintains secrecy because he realizes that if he divulged this method he would be exploiting another man’s ideas. His tenderness toward Crane Man also conveys his magnanimous humanity and devotedness. For example,early on in the novel, Min’s wife provides Tree-ear with a nurturing meal on his first day of work and Tree-ear feels embarrassed and greedy because he eagerly devours the meal, never considering Crane Man’s needs. However, his actions raise his own awareness and from that incident on, Tree-ear always thinks of and reserves a portion for CraneMan.
I feel that the characters are extremely believable. Tree-ear’s youth and poverty help him to realize that the type of person he is going to become is his most valuable and indispensable asset. Min’s coldness and arrogance are also characteristic of someone in a position of authority who places professionalism before interconnectedness. One reason I feel this tale is undeniably believable, is that it is imperfect. Just when Tree-ear has overcome many of his initial obstacles, he is attacked by a group of bandits. True to real life, many inopportune events occur at opportune times, creating complex feelings, self-doubt and a true opportunity for a person to evaluate what he or she is truly made of.
This story is set in Korea. I think the illustrations do enhance the story. On the front of my edition, you can see Tree-ear peeking through a bamboo door at a beautiful vase. This seems to illustrate his secret endeavor to learn the art of creating pottery from Min.