Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Single Shard

It's been a nearly nightly ritual since both of our children were born to read to them before bedtime. We just finished this book, "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park. My kids have patiently endured many a gallery exhibit, pottery show, or studio open house but they usually need to be bribed with ice cream to make it patiently through any of these for the proscribed amount of time. This book about a potter in 12th Century Korea, however, held their interest from start to finish. And, they learned a bit of pottery history as well.

I've yet to post any kind of a book review here; and since I'm no literary critic to begin with, this will not be the first. Instead, this will just an endorsement of a book that I think will appeal to those interested in pottery, Korean pottery, pottery history, or just a well-written story for children of all ages. I enjoyed reading it for myself just as  much as I enjoyed reading it for my children, who are eight and ten. The characters jumped off the page so vividly for me that I felt as though I was watching a movie (and I'm quite surprised that a movie has yet to be made from this story.) It's a story that could be translated into many cultures and many crafts, even though it is specific to this period in Korean history.

I don't want to spoil the story for anyone, so I won't describe the plot in any detail. I'll just do what the publisher did and quote the inside jacket teaser page:

    "Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew on tree trunks without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan.
    Foraging in the fields and on rubbish heaps, and sharing the food with his friend Crane-man, used to be enough to fill Tree-ear's days. But now all Tree-ear wants to do is watch master potter Min at work.
    Ch'ulp'o is a potters' village, famous for delicate celadon ware, and Min is the most brilliant of all the potters in Ch'ilp'o. He is also known to be short-tempered. Even so, Tree-ear is drawn irresistibly to Min's workplace. He is fascinated by the miracle of the potter's craft and dreams of making a pot of his own someday. His quest leads him down unexpected paths, with hazards and rewards beyond imagining.
    This account of a creative spirit on its journey toward fulfillment is set in twelfth-century Korea, where the course of human destiny could be determined by a single celadon shard."

The author, Park, is a Korean-American writer of a number of children's books that have a historic or cultural backdrop to them. "A Single Shard," published in 2001, was awarded the Newberry Medal by the Association for Library Service to Children , recognizing it as a "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. I also recall my daughter telling me a few years ago that a good book was read to the class a few years ago about Africa called "A Long Walk to Water." This NY Times best seller was another of Park's novels, and tells the story of one of the Sudanese "Lost Boys" of the 1990's.  In other words, she's a good writer. Even if you're not a pottery nut like me, you can't go wrong with this one.

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