Monday, April 23, 2001

A Single Shard: Building a Character One Piece at a Time

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Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard (Clarion Books, 2001) is the ninth book I've read in my exploration of the Newbery winners. This is my favorite yet.

Tree-ear is an orphan in 12th century Korea. He lives under a bridge with Crane-man, a crippled homeless man. Tree-ear dreams of being a potter and believes his wish will come true once he gets an opportunity to work for Min, the most noted potter in the area. However, Min works at a very slow pace and seems incapable of showing gratitude for the hard work Tree-ear does.

When an emissary from the king visits the town, all the potters are hopeful that they will get a commission. Such a coup can provide work for life. While Min is clearly the best potter, the commission goes to a rival who has just learned a new technique.

However, the emissary gives Min a chance to learn the technique and bring some pieces to the palace. Min says he could not possibly make such a journey, but Tree-ear offers to make the trek on his behalf. I won't spoil the ending, but I'll say that the book had me crying tears of joy and sadness. The resolution isn't without setup, but it still had elements of surprise.

My focus on reading the Newbery winners is on what lessons I can glean for my writing. Tree-ear exhibits profoundly admirable traits - patience, a willingness to work hard, a refusal to give up, and steadfastly holding on to his dream - that are essential to anyone longing to be successful at anything.

From a writing standpoint, Shard also reminds the reader that while conflict is important to a story, it doesn't have to grow out of the main character's flaws. In fact, I found myself rooting for Tree-ear because he was so deserving of having his dream come true.