Set in Korea in the 12th century, this is the story of a poor orphan boy, Tree-ear, who lives with his crippled friend Crane-man under a bridge. Surviving on garbage scraps and whatever food they can scrounge, Tree-ear is nevertheless a happy boy. He loves to secretly watch the potters at work, particularly the master Min. When he accidentally breaks one of his pieces, Tree-ear must work for the potter for 9 days to pay for the damage. Thus begins an unorthodox apprenticeship, which slowly develops into a friendship with the gruff old potter and his kind wife. When the king's emissary comes to town, his master is given a chance to win a royal commission, and Tree-ear must travel to the King's Court to deliver samples of Min's work.
I loved the elegant simplicity of this book - it tells of the simple lives of simple people with a quiet grace and serenity that touched me deeply. It's the story of Tree-ear's growing up and coming of age, as well as of friendship and what constitutes family. Well-deserving of the Newbery medal!