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A Single Shard, by author Linda Sue Park (left), was the winner of the 2003 John Newberry Medal, awarded by the Children’s Librarians’ Section of the American Library Association. (Photo/Klaus Pollmeir)

 

From The Asian Reporter, V14, #6 (February 3, 2004), page 15 and 17.

Quietly, splendidly Korean

A Single Shard

By Linda Sue Park

Best if read aloud to five- to nine-year-olds, self-reading for nine- to 15-year-olds

Dell Yearling, 2003

Paperback, 192 pages, $5.99

By Polo

"Eh, Tree-Ear! Have you hungered well today?" Crane-man, a kind elderly uncle, asks his young companion. It’s cheerful wordplay on the traditional Korean greeting, "Have you eaten well today?" And they would eat well, because on this autumn day Tree-Ear, whom Crane-man took in as an orphan ten or so years earlier, had foraged a couple of handfuls of rice grains for their supper. The two share everything, which adds up to nearly nothing, except great heart. Crane-man not only took Baby Tree-Ear into his shelter under the town bridge, but also took him under his wing, quietly teaching him honorable ways to gather their daily meal. Begging, Crane-man tells his boy, makes "a man no better than a dog. Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away."

A Single Shard is Newberry-Medal-winner Linda Sue Park’s third acclaimed children’s novel. All of her stories are set in carefully researched Korean historical periods. Her latest takes place in old Ch’ulp’o, a small coastal village on the side of Korea that faces China, in the mid to late 1300s. Ch’ulp’o was a traditional Korean celadon potters’ village, situated near deposits of extraordinarily fine riverside clay. During the period portrayed in Ms. Park’s story, Korean celadon was prized by Imperial Chinese courts for its simple and graceful design, distinctive glaze, and innovative inlay. The precious pieces Ms. Park describes in Tree-ear’s rise from bridge-dweller to artist’s apprentice are all actual antiquities found today in museums or private art collections.

And this is what makes A Single Shard a treasure. The author sets her story of poor but never impoverished Korean commoners on a minutely researched cultural and historical stage. The dignity with which old uncle Crane-ear applies folk wisdom to Tree-ear’s moral dilemmas is inspiring — "Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself."

The descriptions of Tree-ear’s eventual teacher, Master Min’s pottery are compelling — "How proud the potters were of its color! No one has been able to name it satisfactorily, for although it was green, shades of blue and gray and violet whispered beneath it, as in the sea on a cloudy day." Even Korea’s rugged geography is included in Tree-ear’s difficult transformation from innocent boy to responsible young man.

Linda Sue Park’s emotional authenticity and cultural accuracy combine to make a telling that is simple and sincere enough to entertain elementary schoolers, but subtle and sophisticated enough to engage middle-school-age readers.

 

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