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A Single Shard
First edition
Author Linda Sue Park
Cover artist Jean and Mon-sien Tseng
Country United States of America
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Clarion Books
Publication date
April 23, 2001
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 148
ISBN 0-395-97827-0
OCLC 44803112
LC Class PZ7.P22115 Si 2001

A Single Shard is a novel by Linda Sue Park, set in 12th-century Korea. It won the 2002 Newbery Medal, awarded for excellence in children's literature. It also received an honorable mention from the Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature.


Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge with Crane-man, a physically disabled man who took him in when Tree-ear was only a small child. Tree-ear is fascinated with the nearby potters in his village, especially Min, and often watches them work. Tree-ear learns the pattern of Min's daily life and always sneaks up to the same paulownia tree to watch Min throw clay on the wheel and form jugs, vases, and cups. One day, Tree-ear, calculating that that day was Min's throwing day again, goes into Min's yard, but since neither the old potter nor his throwing wheel was in sight, he decides to investigate the work that Min was drying in the sun. When Min comes out and startles Tree-ear, he drops and breaks a box, which he thinks is fascinating how Min can fit smaller clay boxes into bigger ones. As he was about to leave, he hears Min muttering that the box he had dropped was made in three days. To pay for his mistake, Tree-ear offers to work for Min for thrice the number of days in order to pay for the box, which then turns into eighteen months (a year and a half) when he begged Min to continue helping him. His jobs are to cut wood and put it into the pottery kiln, cut clay from the riverbanks for the potter to make into clay and drain clay to make it finer.

As Tree-ear arrives for his first day of work, he feels a great deal of excitement at the idea of learning the craft of the potter. However, Min wants Tree-ear to cut wood for the communal kiln. For nine days, Tree-ear cuts wood for Min. When the nine days are over, Tree-ear returns to Min's and requests a continuing job. Min informs Tree-ear that he cannot pay him except for a meal, but Tree-ear only wants to learn the trade, therefore, he does not expect payment. Min agrees, sending Tree-ear to the river for clay.

One afternoon, word spreads throughout Ch'ulp'o that a royal emissary called Kim is coming to offer commissions to the best potters both in their village and another village down the coast. All the potters begin working at a fast pace in order to have their best work ready to display. During this time, Tree-ear notices some odd behavior in another potter, Kang, who was as experienced as Min but was more impatient. He notes that Kang has been very secretive, carrying small bowls filled with semiliquid clay (slip) that seems to be colored, and carrying jars, wine cups, jugs, and vessels back and forth from the kiln early in the morning. Tree-ear also spies that one day, Kang was carrying two small bowls, and tripped on a stone. The contents of both bowls sloshed over on the ground a little and Kang cursed loudly before he disappeared into the house. Tree-ear sneaked up to the spillage to find two differently-colored slip, red and white. One night, Tree-ear sneaks up to Kang's work shed and sees him carving out chrysanthemums on the side of a vase and then filling the holes with colored clay. Tree-ear wants to tell Min what he has seen, but he is concerned that by doing so he would be stealing from Kang, so he waits.

The day the royal emissary arrives, all the potters set up stalls on the beach filled with their work. Min's is the smallest display but it is one of a few that earns extra attention from the Emissary Kim as he admires the melon-shaped jug that is put on the display. The emissary leaves, but will return in a month to offer commissions. The potters who received extra attention before again begin working quickly to prepare new samples for the emissary. Tree-ear tells Min about Kang's inlay work. Min immediately begins creating inlays in his own pottery. However, after the pottery is fired in the kiln, it all comes out with brown stains that sometimes appear in the finish. Min breaks them all and prepares to start over. Unfortunately, the emissary arrives before he can create anything new. After a few days, news comes out: Kang has been chosen for a commission. When he visits Min's house and hears the story, the emissary offers to give Min a commission if he can bring a sample to the capital city, but Min confesses that he believes he is too old for such a trip.

Tree-ear overhears the conversation between Min and the emissary. Tree-ear offers to take a sample of Min's work to Songdo for him, as a gift to Min's wife who has befriended and cared for Tree-ear over the past year. Once again, Min works quickly to create two melon-shaped vases with intricate, inlaid flowers along the side. Crane-man is hired to create a basket that will carry the vases without breaking them. After taking care to be sure Crane-man will be cared for during his absence, Tree-ear sets off alone for the capital city.

Tree-ear walks for days alone, sleeping in the homes of strangers, or alone in the woods. When Tree-ear reaches the city of Puyo, he goes up to a mountain cliff (called the Rock of Falling Flowers) where it is said a group of women jumped off to the river below to prevent capture by an invading army. At the top of this cliff, Tree-ear is attacked by two robbers who steal all his coins. The two robbers also take the vases and throw them over the edge of the cliff to the river below. After they have gone, Tree-ear rushes down to the river to check on the fate of the vases. Both vases are broken but one has broken in large pieces, allowing Tree-ear to take a single shard of the broken vase and continue his journey.

When Tree-ear arrives in Songdo, he sees the familiar chrysanthemums and colors on a stall selling pottery. When the stall owner sees Tree-ear's interest, he tells him that the work was already one of the King's favorite. Tree-ear talks his way into a meeting with the emissary when he arrives at the palace. Tree-ear reveals his attack by the robbers and then shows the single shard. Despite the incredulity of the emissary's assistant, Min is offered a commission and Tree-ear is given safe passage home on a ship. Once home, Tree-ear goes directly to the home of Min to tell him about the commission. Min has news for Tree-ear as well. Crane-man died a few days before when a farmer's cart broke the rotten bridge railing, causing him to fall into the cold water. Tree-ear is devastated by this news and afraid for his own future. However, Min's wife tells him that he is to move in with her and her husband. Later, Min reveals that he intends to teach Tree-ear, now known as Hyung-pil, the art of pottery. In the ending of the story, there is an italic part, where it is said that Tree-ear, or Hyung-pil, created the "Thousand Cranes Vase", which is the finest example of inlaid celadon pottery in the seventeenth century. The part Italic textexplains the piece of pottery and hints that Tree-ear (Hyung-pil) made it.

Preceded by
A Year Down Yonder
Newbery Medal Award
Succeeded by
Crispin: The Cross of Lead
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