One could dismiss A Single Shard by thinking that a story set in twelfth century Korea would not hold the interest of today’s young readers. Until reading the first page, and then you would realize your error. There are so many wonderful things about this book, it is hard to name just a few. First is the relationship between Tree-ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge, and Crane-man, his companion and teacher in the important elements of life. Then we have Min, a master potter who is strict and unfriendly, punishing Min for breaking a piece of pottery with many days of hard work. Min’s wife, Ajima, makes food everyday for Tree-ear, once Tree-ear begins the work of an apprentice. Yet Tree-ear is an orphan, and as much as he loves pottery and desires to become a master potter, tradition dictates that only a potter’s son may be an apprentice and learn the trade of his father. Tree-ear wants to help Min receive a royal commission for his work, a difficult task for a potter. Yet Min and Tree-ear are determined, despite the obstacles in their paths. Will Min receive a royal commission? Will their plan be successful? Can Tree-ear make a long, sometimes dangerous journey to Songdo on his own? What will happen to Crane-man without Tree-ear nearby? Will Tree-ear ever become an official apprentice and learn the trade of pottery?
Quotes for Discussions and Journals
*page numbers refer to the 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition
- “Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” (page 6)
- “Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” (page 7)
- “My friend, the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another open.” (Crane-man, page 97)
- “Why was it that pride and foolishness were so often close companions?” (page 102)
- “‘I have no gift for you beyond words,” he said. ‘I would tell you this. Of all the problems you may meet on your journey, it will be people who are the greatest danger. But it will also be people to whom you must turn if ever you are in need of aid. Remember this, my friend, and you will travel well.'” (page 107)
- “Leaping into death is not the only way to show true courage.” (page 126)
- “There were some things that could not be molded into words.” (page 139)
- “Tree-ear ducked his head quickly, recalling that the son of Min had been called Hyung-gu. A name that shared a syllable! It was an honor bestowed on siblings. No longer would Tree-ear go by the name of an orphan. He could only nod wordlessly, but he felt Ajima’s smile at his back as he turned away.” (page 147)
- The first scene in the novel involves Tree-ear and a farmer. What do you think of Tree-ear’s decision in this scene? What do we learn about Tree-ear? What kind of person is he? Find evidence in the text to support the characteristics you see in Tree-ear.
- Describe Tree-ear and Crane-man’s relationship? Why are they friends? What ideas and values form the basis of their friendship?
- Crane-man offers many moments of wisdom for Tree-ear. What are some of the lessons learned by Tree-ear because of his elder friend? What quotes show Crane-man’s wisdom?
- Explain the apprentice process for potter’s in twelfth century Korea. What are the advantages to this type of system? What are the disadvantages? How is the apprentice system similar to modern day education? How is it different?
- Honor and honesty are both important values in this story. How does Tree-ear learn about both honor and honesty? What incidents in the storyline help us understand how honor and honesty are part of the characters’ lives? Why is it so important to Tree-ear to be honest and live his life with honor?
- Names are very important in Korean culture. What are the stories behind Tree-ear and Crane-man’s names? What is the significance of the name that Ajima gives Tree-ear in the final chapter? Why is this important to Tree-ear? What do you think this means for Tree-ear’s future?
- What is the significance of the title A Single Shard? Can you think of other titles that would also be appropriate for this book? Cite evidence from the text in discussing your proposal for a title.
Interested in pairing books with A Single Shard? Here are some great possibilities!
Korean Folk Tales, Fairy Tales & More
Readers of A Single Shard will likely be inspired to read another Linda Sue Park novel. Which one will you read next?