I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked up ‘A Single Shard.’ I like historical fiction, but it isn’t what I turn to first thing when I’m perusing a shelf; I’m more of a sci-fi/fantasy kind of woman. But ‘A Single Shard’ is a Newbery Medal winner, and I’m trying to read all of the Newberys, so I ended up getting it from the library. I ended up thoroughly enjoying the book, and I read it in about three days.
In 12th century Korea, Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge with a crippled man named Crane-man in a village that specializes in pottery. The potters of Ch’ulp’o are some of the finest in all Korea, and Tree-ear particularly admires the work of the potter Min. After an accident, Tree-ear begins to work for Min, becoming an apprentice of sorts except Min will not teach him to throw pots. Eventually, in order to maybe secure a royal commission for Min, Tree-ear volunteers to walk from his little village all the way to the capitol of Korea. His journey shows his bravery, humility and determination, and the ending is sad but sweet and satisfying.
Okay, first off, I fell in love with Tree-ear in the you’d-be-the-best-little-brother-ever kind of way. He’s a great character, one who possesses a lot of positive qualities but isn’t perfect. Although he tries to do the right thing, he struggles with what is moral and what isn’t moral. His hopes are dashed more than once, but he never gives up, even when it seems like there is no reason to keep trying. The other characters in the book are really well-done as well and have motivations and explanations behind their personalities and their actions. I really liked Ajima and the kindness that she shows Tree-ear as well as her playfulness and her attitude. Crane-man has a wonderful sense of humor, and he often knows just what to say to make Tree-ear think harder and consider his actions or what he is about to do. I also loved learning about celadon potter creation; I never knew the green pots were a particular variety, I just thought they were neat! It’s a great story, one that middle school students with an interest in art or historical fiction will probably enjoy the most.