A young boy with a big dream
This 2002 Newbery Medal winner is a sensitive tale set in Korea, writes John Millen
'A small village on the west coast of Korea, mid to late twelfth century.' There you have it, straight to the point. Linda Sue Park begins A Single Shard with no wasted words because she wants to take her readers immediately to the setting and the time frame of the story she has to tell.
Tree-ear has nothing. He doesn't even have a proper name like the other children in the village. He lives in poverty, spending his days scavenging for scraps of food. He's not even sure how old he is but he thinks he must be about 12.
Orphans are considered bad luck in the village so people ignore Tree-ear and go out of their way to avoid him if he should cross their path. When he was a baby, a stranger brought him to the village from a nearby town after his parents died of fever.
The stranger left Tree-ear in the care of a cripple called Crane-man who had made his home under a bridge on the outskirts of the village. The years passed and Crane-man did his best to look after the orphan who had appeared out of nowhere.
Tree-ear has Crane-man and he has his bridge. Each day the sun rises and food has to be found so the two of them can survive. If Tree-ear has a past, it is not important now, and if there is more to having a family and a home than Crane-man and the bridge, he does not need to know.
The village where Tree-ear and Crane-man live is an important pottery community where the craftsmen produce ceramics that are famous not only in Korea but also far away in the court of the emperor of China.
Over the years, pottery from the village kilns has gained great favour in the highest of places, bringing a comfortable standard of living to the settlement. The villagers eat well, and the left-overs thrown onto the rubbish tips provide Tree-ear and Crane-man with enough food to stop them from starving.
But recently, Tree-ear has started to look beyond the village rubbish dumps. He has begun secretly watching the potters at work and dreams of someday creating his own pots. When a fascinated Tree-ear sneaks into the workshop of Min, the best potter in the village, little does he know that this one, furtive step will lead him on an adventure that will change his life forever.
An absorbing sense of time and place do much to set Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard apart from the rest. This sensitively told story, written with focused precision, is that rare thing in young people's fiction - something different.
A Single Shard won the 2002 Newbery Medal for excellence in young people's literature, and it is easy to see why. Here is a thoroughly captivating read and a worthy winner that deserves to be at the top of anyone's reading list.
A Single Shard
By Linda Sue Park
Published by Random House / Dell Yearling Books
ISBN 0 440 41851 8
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com