"It's not my fault you lost your son, not my fault I'm an orphan! Why must it be father to son? If the pot is made well, does it matter whose son made it?"
A Single Shard is an engaging story about a 12th century Korean boy of twelve who is trying to find his way in life. The boy called Tree-ear does not have a comfortable home and lifestyle, and sheer survival is an issue he faces daily. Although an orphan, he is fortunate enough to have a father-son relationship with the elderly Crane-man, who has taken care of Tree-ear since he was a young child. I really liked the way Park depicted the relationship between these two “down-and-outers.”
Crane-man provides for Tree-ear’s basic needs such as food and shelter and gives him instruction and advice about life. Tree-ear obviously loves and respect the old man. In spite of the fact that Tree-ear and Crane-man live under a bridge and share any small amounts of food they are able to beg or gather, Tree-ear seems content with his life to a certain extent. They both have positive attitudes, support each other, and make each other laugh. Tree-ear does the best he can in his situation and has actually “come to appreciate his lowly status.” Tree-ear recognizes that Crane-man sacrifices a great deal for him and ponders to himself that it seemed “his friend spent the entire day figuring out how to transform a handful of weeks and bones into something that resembled a meal.” Crane-man is a great example of sacrificial love in the way he deals with Tree-ear. And Tree-ear longs to somehow give him something in return.
Although Tree-ear is a poor, homeless orphan, he is obviously bright and has the potential to accomplish much, if only given the opportunity. After secretly watching the village’s most talented potter, Tree-ear develops a growing desire to learn the skill of pottery-making and wants to make a beautiful vase himself. He is by nature a motivated, determined, and clever boy, and he is able to persuade Min to teach him his art. Tree-ear works diligently, even when the potter neither encourages nor helps him. He is always respectful and submissive to authority, which is a reflection of the Korean culture. While Min isn’t physically abusive, he never offers Tree-ear the positive feedback or patient instruction that a trainee needs from his master-teacher. But when Min is requested to make and bring samples of his fine pottery work to the court of the king, Tree-ear is assigned the task of making the journey to deliver the vases.
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I have used this book for my high readers in 4th grade for literature circles. It brings great discussion and students will seek out new knowledge about content using the Internet.
The story of the orphaned boy was well written and a page turner. I ordered the book for my 9 year old nephew and decided to read it first. The content is great of various ages. I enjoyed the writer's telling of the story with such Eastern detail. The social customs are spot on target and makes the reasons for such behavior more palatable. Reading the context of the boys circumstances in his culture makes his achievements and travails more vivid. Good read! I can't wait for my nephew to read it so we can talk about it.