Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5
A Single Shard, the mildly amusing 2002 Newbery Medal Winner, takes places in 12th century Korea. Tree-ear, an orphan boy, lives with crippled Crane-Man under a bridge, scavenging food from the rest of town. He also watches the town potters avidly, enchanted by the process and workmanship. When Tree-ear accidentally breaks a master potter’s box, he repays Min by doing grunt work for him. The initial 10 days turns into a continuing relationship. Tree-ear learns much from Min, but is never invited to throw a pot because that teaching is reserved for sons, even though Min’s perished tragically.
Eventually, Tree-ear volunteers to take Min’s prized work to the capitol. He is beset by robbers, who smash the vases. Tree-ear strongly considers turning back, but finds a large shard and takes that to the palace. It is enough to earn Min a prized royal commission. When Tree-ear returns home, he finds that Crane-Man died. However, Min and his wife invite Tree-ear to live with them and Min begins teaching Tree-ear the trade.
The story highlights the value of perseverance. Tree-ear faces circumstances which make him want to quit multiple times but decides to push on. When first working for Min, for example, Tree-ear works his hands raw. However, he keeps up the work to fulfill his obligation. Again when bandits break the vases, Tree-ear almost gives up and heads home, but instead makes a hard choice to continue on. His eventual adoption is the culmination of the reward for his efforts.
This is a decent enough read, if not dramatic. It’s a solid portrayal of daily life at that particular place and time. The characters are interesting and well developed. They shine against the simple plot background. Recommended especially for those who are interested in how things are made, as the book gives many details about the process of making pottery.