Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard
Book review by Shannon Duncan
The first time I saw A Single Shard was at the library. It was right at the back of the building, on a shelf almost level with the floor, nestled amongst the old classics that never seemed to be checked out. As soon as I pulled it out, I knew it was something special.
After reading only a page, I knew why this book, set in twelfth-century Korea, won the 2002 Newbery medal; I think you will too.
Tree-ear was an orphan. He was named after a mushroom that emerged from the trunks of dead trees without benefit of parent seed. Their appearance was as mysterious as his.
He could not remember the day that he had arrived in Ch'ul'po and Crane-man had taken him in, selflessly sharing his place under the bridge and his precious food.
As Tree-ear grew, he could help with the endless task of searching for food. It was hard, but Crane-man taught him never to shrink from work; begging or stealing, he said, made a man no better than a dog. Work gave him dignity.
After their meagre dinners, the friends challenged each other with questions, sharpening their minds. Crane-man often said, “Scholars learn to read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” Tree-ear would always be grateful for the love and lessons that Crane-man had freely given him, gifts that would stay with him forever.
Despite their poverty, Tree-ear was content with his life, until he saw the potter, Min, at work. Min was a master craftsman, the best potter in a potter's village.
Tree-ear was mesmerised and found himself being drawn to Min's house every day. Hidden, he could watch as the pots rose on the wheel and as, with a grunt of disgust, Min slammed his creation back into a lump of clay.
One day, though, Tree-ear's fascination overcame his fear and, while the potter was out, he sneaked into the yard to look at the pots drying outside. That day changed his life forever.
The book is the product of a lifetime's research and experience. Linda Sue Park's exposure to Korean culture and tradition began at birth because, although Park grew up in America, her parents were Korean immigrants.
She visited her parent's homeland when she was twelve, and the trip left a deep impression on her; she never forgot the people and places she saw.
Besides her own memories, Park brings months of dedicated research, as well as years of writing experience, to each of her books. The result is a story that is historically accurate and rich in detail.
A Single Shard flows smoothly and although it is completely believable, there are many clever twists in the plot, you never know what to expect. The conclusion surprises you, but fits perfectly.
There are few characters in this story, so the author has time to build detailed pictures of each one: you know their moods, expressions and ways. They are complex, but always distinct; they are human.
Relationships are central to the story and the author shows that the meaning of 'family' can change. A family is more than a group of people that are related, it is a group of people who love each other and would give up everything for each other.
Crane-man used many powerful metaphors to teach Tree-ear about the world and they enrich the story, giving it a unique and poetic beauty.
A Single Shard is a special book, recommended for children 10 years old and above.
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