Genre: historical middle grade fiction
Length: 152 pages
Setting: 12th century Korea
Interest: I had heard good things about it and put it in our collection. Mr. Curiosity chose it as his bedtime story.
Summary: Tree-ear is an orphaned boy who lives under the bridge with crippled Crane-man. One day, when he is admiring one of Min, the potter’s works, he is startled and breaks it. To make up for the broken pot, Tree-ear goes to work for Min. He gradually takes on all the jobs of an apprentice. One day, a representative from the emperor comes to their town to present a royal commission to the best potter. Min has the best form on his pots, but someone has figured out how to add different colors to the clay. The representative is willing to give the commission to Min if he can demonstrate the new inlay work. Tree-ear has to carry two perfect pots to the capital. Sadly, he is set upon by robbers who break the pots. All he can bring is a single shard from one of the pots. It is enough to get the commission. When Tree-ear returns to the village, he is adopted by Min and is allowed to begin throwing pots.
Final thoughts: A fascinating story from a unique perspective. Not only do we get the historical setting, but Tree-ear is a homeless orphan, shunned by society. Only Crane-man, who is also homeless, is his friend. They work together to get enough food to survive. Tree-ear shows great integrity and hard work in all of his interactions, even when lying or cheating would benefit him. His hard work pays off as he slowly gains Min’s confidence and learns how to do all the steps needed to make celedon pottery. I loved the setting, the characters, and the storyline. I also appreciated the historical note at the end of the book.
The book worked quite well as a read aloud. The chapters were the perfect length for one night’s reading session. There were a few Korean words, but nothing too tricky and not too many voices to keep straight from night to night.
Title comes from: The single shard of Min’s pottery Tree-ear salvages and shows to the royal representative.
Awards won: Newbery Award in 2002
Reading challenges fulfilled: 52/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and 11/12 in my Award Winning Challenge
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