06 November 2011

A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park)

Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard won the Newbery in 2002, the year I graduated from college. The setting is world-expanding, at least for me: twelfth-century Korea, in a village known for its celadon pottery, celadon being a stoneware glaze producing a unique blue-gray-green color. The main character is an orphan named Tree-Ear, who's lived most of his life under a bridge with his crippled guardian, Crane-Man; Tree-Ear is fascinated by master potter Min, spying on him as he throws pots and fires them into beauty. When he breaks a pot by accident, he offers to work off the debt, secretly hoping Min will teach him his craft. Min, meanwhile, dreams of a potter's highest honor: a royal commission to create pieces for the king.

Beyond the novelty of the mise en scène, it's a pretty straightforward book. It was striking how much simpler the construction of the prose was than Roll of Thunder--twenty-five years certainly affected the complexity of children's literature--though I wouldn't call it simplistic. It is less engaging to an adult reader, however. The cynic in me feels like the real value of the book lies in middle school teachers being able to check off "Asian" in their diversity boxes--but hey, what's wrong with that? I mean, I'm more historically educated than most, and I still know almost nothing about Korean history, except that they were constantly invaded by China and Japan. Also, kimchi. So a book to fill in that gap early--and to provoke thought about the art of pottery, its mix of manual skill, imagination, and chance--is a good thing.

Thursday: Scott O'Dell's 1961 adventure yarn Island of the Blue Dolphins.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.