Linda Sue Park doesn't waste words as she begins A Single Shard. She wants to take her readers straight into the story she has to tell.
Tree-ear is an orphan and he has nothing. He doesn't even have a proper name like the other children in the village. He lives in complete poverty, spending his days scavenging for scraps of food from the rubbish tips on the edge of the village. He's not even sure how old he is, but he thinks he might be 12 years old.
Orphans are considered bad luck in the village. People ignore Tree-ear, and go out of their way to avoid him if he crosses 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 plan was to leave Tree-ear with an uncle in the village, but the uncle had moved away nobody knew where he was.
The stranger left Tree-ear with a cripple called Crane-man who lived under a bridge on the outskirts of the village. The years pass, and Crane-man does his best to look after the orphan.
Tree-ear is satisfied with Crane-man and his bridge in his life. Every day, Tree-ear has to find food so the two of them can survive. Although he doesn't have a family or a home, Tree-ear is happy knowing someone cares for him.
The village where Tree-ear and Crane-man live is an important pottery community. 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 been favoured by some very important and rich people, bringing money and comfort to the settlement.
The villagers eat well, and the left-overs thrown onto the local 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 tips. He has begun secretly watching the potters at work and dreams of someday creating his own pots. When he sneaks into the workshop of Min, the best potter in the village, he doesn't realise this step will lead him on an adventure that will change his life forever.
An absorbing sense of time and place set Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard apart from other similar stories. This sensitively told story, written with focussed precision, really is something different in a world of children's fiction that focuses on either magic or the pressures of becoming a teenager.
A Single Shard won the 2002 Newbery Medal for excellence in young people's literature, and it is easy to see why. It 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