Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Summary: Tree-ear is an orphan boy in a twelfth-century Korean potters' village. For a long time he is content to live with Crane-man under a bridge, barely surviving on scraps of food. All of that changes when Tree-ear sees master potter Min making his beautiful pottery. Tree-ear sneaks into Min's workplace and dreams of creating his own pots someday. When he accidentally breaks a pot, he must work for the master to pay for the damage. Though the work is long and hard, Tree-ear is eager to learn. Then he is sent to the King's court to show the master's pottery. Little does Tree-ear know that this difficult and dangerous journey will change his life forever.

My review: I've been interested in ceramics/pottery since I was a little girl. For most of my elementary education, I attended a school that had a great deal of money (no thanks to my family), and its own kiln. Our art classes, on occasion, actually consisted of molding clay into the obligatory ash tray or bowl and then glazing and firing it. It was a very cool experience for me and one that has always fascinated me.
So, imagine my delight when I picked up this book, based solely on its Newberry award, and found not only a charming story, but a detailed description of ancient Korean pottery practices. In general, I really appreciated this book for its attention to detail--for describing the pottery process and delving into Korean history and folklore along the way. I was awed by the amount of work that went into getting the clay ready to use, let alone the time and effort went into making and firing even ONE dish. While I found the details of this story more interesting than the story itself, I feel that is more a personal thing, and that a child would probably find it quite the opposite.
In "A Single Shard," Tree-ear (like me) has always been fascinated by pottery. His dilemma is more financial, because as an orphan living under a bridge, he has few prospects. Still, he squirrels himself away and spies on the master potter Min until curiosity lands him in the middle of a big mess and very much indebted to the man he so admires. Tree-ear begins to work without pay for Min, secretly harboring the hope that someday Min will teach him the trade he so desperately wants to learn. When an embassy comes to town, looking for unique pottery to commission for the King, the town sizzles with competition. As the story progresses, and dreams are dashed and reformed, Tree-Ear is forced to make a long journey to visit the King's emissary and, when disaster strikes, must make a very difficult decision. There are several supporting characters, like Ajima and Crane-man that are quite lovable and help to advance the story and message of the book.
Ultimately, I found this story to be heart warming and well-written with just the right amount of historical detail (too much and you fall asleep, you know). I also enjoyed traveling to a culture, time, and place that was unfamiliar to me and living there briefly albeit in my mind.** This book also has powerful messages on honesty, bravery, and persistence which seem to be novel ideas for children's literature now-a-days. The main message of "A Single Shard" seemed to be that hard-work pays off. Not only for Tree-Ear but for Min as well. There will always be people out there willing to make shoddy work for extra cheap....but the really amazing pieces will always take time, effort, and patience. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere....maybe something about authors who knock off books every two months versus those who take their time. Hmmmm.......

**the primary reason I liked "Eat, Pray, Love"

My rating: 4 (It's hard for me to give a five to anything that took me 2 weeks to read. It's nothing personal. I just don't feel that connection if it takes me that long, even if its just because I have no free time.)

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Definitely worth your time.

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