A Single Shard
By Linda Sue Park
cover image retrieved 11/9/12 from
Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. New York: Clarion Books, 2001. ISBN 978-0395978276
Tree-Ear is a young orphan who lives under a bridge with a kindly old man who cares for him, Crane-man. Though they are destitute, Crane-man teaches Tree-Ear survival tactics, how to have dignity, and the importance of believing in himself. Tree-Ear is fascinated with a local potter, the best in the region. In his efforts to sneak a peak at the potter’s new vase, he accidentally breaks it and must work to pay back the damages. As part of his work Tree-Ear must take a vase to the King’s Court. Along the dangerous journey Tree-Ear gains a greater understanding of who he is, what he is capable of, and what matters in life.
“Work gives a man dignity. Stealing takes it away.” So begins this novel that exudes dignity and life lessons. Though rooted in the culture of 12th century Korea, A Single Shard is a universal story of the virtues of integrity and hard work. Through the simple narrative compelling truths ring clear that transcend culture and time.
Cultural markers abound in this novel. The architecture of the buildings, both in the small village where Tree-Ear has lived most of his life, and at the royal palace are described in detail. Words carefully chosen by the author draw a clear picture for the reader of the landscape as Tree-Ear travels to the palace to show the emissary the pottery of Min. Tree-Ear makes a long, arduous journey walking over the land, which was the standard mode of travel in the day. As a reward for bringing a fine sample of pottery for the emissary, it is arranged for Tree-Ear to travel by ship to return home. This would have been a too expensive type of travel for an orphan peasant, so the arranged trip is an unexpected extravagance.
Mannerisms typical of the Asian culture are evident throughout the novel. Bowing in respect, speaking only when spoken to, and using formal titles are all typical cultural markers. After accepting a commission for his master from the emissary, Tree-Ear is ecstatic, but responds with calm reserve. He observes, “There are some things that could not be molded into words.” This composure is a distinct cultural phenomena.
Traditional Korean names, both of people and places, are used throughout. Near the end of the novel, the Potter Min and his wife Ajima invite Tree-Ear to live with them and work as an apprentice with Min. after Tree-Ear accepts the invitation, Ajima asks him to take the name Hyung-pil. Tree-Ear recalls that Min and Ajima had a son, whom they lost, who had the name Hyung-gu. This is very significant culturally to Tree-Ear, as he knows that sharing a syllable with a sibling is an honor within a family. The simple offer of that name signifies that he will no longer be an orphan, but will now have a familial relationship with this couple.
This simple, touching story conveys life lessons and great insight into a culture from long ago. It is an unexpected gem, which is recommended for readers in upper elementary through high school.
Carolyn Phelan (Booklist, Apr. 1, 2001 (Vol. 97, No. 15))
Readers will feel the hunger and cold that Tree-ear experiences, as well as his shame, fear, gratitude, and love. A well-crafted novel with an unusual setting. A starred review.
Marie Salvadore (Parents Guide, Fall 2001 (Vol. 4, No. 1))
The spare telling is evocative, bringing to life the setting in 12th century Korea. This compelling story provides a stirring glimpse at distant time and place.
Nina Lindsay (VOYA, April 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 1))
Historical details are included deftly, and in a lengthy author's note, Park describes her research process, letting the reader know what is documented and what is speculation. With scant historical fiction available in this area, this 2002 Newbery Award-winning book makes a unique offering, and its inviting length and appealing tone should find it wide use. Tree-ear and his companions might be just too truehearted for some, but the story's satisfying arc makes rich reading for those looking for an involving and insightful historical novel.
Best Book Lists/Awards
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 13th Edition, 2002 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Book Review Stars, Apr. 1, 2001 ; American Library Association; United States
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2001 ; American Library Association; United States
Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth, 2002 ; American Library Association; United States
Books to Read Aloud to Children of All Ages, 2003 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Capitol Choices, 2001 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2002 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Fourth Edition, 2003 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, January 15, 2001 ; United States
Los Angeles' 100 Best Books, 2001 ; IRA Children's Literature and Reading SIG and the Los Angeles Unified School District; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002 ; H.W. Wilson; US
Notable Children's Books, 2002 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Parent's Guide to Children's Media, 2001 ; Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, Inc.; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, March 2001 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Best Books, 2001 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, May 2001 ; Cahners; United States
Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association, 2002 ; Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2002 ; American Library Association; United States
Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, 2001-2003 Honorable Mention Text United States
John Newbery Medal, 2002 Winner United States
· Students will discover a wealth of information and activities on author Linda Sue Park’s website at http://www.lspark.com/index.html Students will try out their knowledge and luck under the Fun tab, taking quizzes on Newberry Award winning books and children’s books in general.
· Students will learn more about the writing process by examining Ms. Park’s Writing tab on her website. Students will use the novel structures described here to outline a story. Students will create a about a person who faces a challenging task, using this outline format.
· Students will learn more about the people and culture of Korea at http://tkdbible.com/korculture/index.html and http://www.koreanculture.org.au/about/korean-culture-worldwide Students will take a virtual field trip of ancient Korea at http://www.koreanfolk.co.kr/folk/english/index.htm . Students will create a journal of the things they learn through this field trip, with summaries and illustrations.
· Students will explore the geography, history, culture, food, religion, and language of Korea on Hidden Korea at http://www.pbs.org/hiddenkorea/index.htm Students will create a map of Korea, depicting important cities, geographic features and landforms, and neighboring countries. Students will write a five-paragraph paper describing the important and historic features of Korea.
· Students will learn more about the Age of Celadon at http://www.korean-arts.com/about/age_of_celadon.htm Students will study the examples of celadon pottery and create a still life drawing of one of the vases.
Other books by Linda Sue Park
Seesaw Girl (1999)
The Kite Fighters (2000)
When My Name Was Keoko (2002)
The Firekeeper's Son (2004)
Mung-Mung: A Foldout Book of Animal Sounds (2004)
What Does Bunny See?: A Book of Colors and Flowers (2005)
Yum! Yuck!: A Foldout Book of People Sounds From Around the World (2005)
Project Mulberry (2005)
Bee-bim Bop (2005)
Archer's Quest (2006)
Click: One novel ten authors, chapter one (2007)
Storm Warning (2010)
A Long Walk to Water (2010)
"On Meeting a Poet,"
"Changing the Sheets,"
"Fourth-Grade Science Project,"
"Seven Sins: Portrait of an Aristocratic Young Woman,"
"A Little World,"
"The Ramparts at Calvi,"
"Picturing the Words,"
"When the Last Panda Died,"