The 2002 winner, by Linda Sue Park is set in 12th century Korea in a seaside potters’ village, an atypical and charming setting.” Tree Ear”, a poor Korean orphan (a familiar character in Korean folktales, I’m told) lives under a bridge with his friend “Crane Man” surviving on rubbish and fallen grains of rice. Yet he yearns to become a potter.
The book, a coming of age story, in a sense, follows Tree Ear’s fortuitous but stormy relationship with Master Potter Min, to whom he is introduced through an accident of broken pottery, and the calmer, nurturing one he share with Crane Man. Predictably, Tree Ear becomes an apprentice to Min and faces the challenge of convincing Min of his worth.
When the Royal Emissary come to the village to bestow a royal commission, Tree Ear faces his biggest challenge. delivering samples of Min’s work to the capital for inspection. Along the way, he is beset by robbers and only a single shard remains.
Though the story follows a predictable course and Tree Ear triumphs in the end, the language and positive values reinforced by Crane Man make it an enjoyable read. While the descriptions of life in 12th century Korea are minimal, the author delights readers with detailed information about the ancient art of pottery making.
The descriptions in the book and the author’s notes about life in 12th century Korea and the prized, “celadon” pottery featured in this story make this book an excellent choice for home schoolers or after a trip to a “make your own” pottery place.