Friday, November 16, 2007

A Single Shard

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, won the Newbery in 2002. It's a quiet book, filled with the mechanics of pottery-making, and I'm guessing that kids that like a lot of action in their books (like my almost 11 year old son) won't find it particularly interesting.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't really that thrilled with the book, either. Park does an exquisite job of portraying a village in Korea in the 1100's and making its inhabitants seem like regular people instead of quaint archaic primitives. Tree-ear (the ten year old protagonist) and Crane-man are interesting, but their relationship doesn't really evolve. The plot that involved potter Ming, Tree-ear's apprenticeship, and Tree-ear's journey to the capital was a little too predictable for me.

I did really like the discussion of intellectual property rights. You don't find that in kid's books too often (as far as I know, anyway, I'd be happy to hear otherwise in the comments):
Tree-ear spoke slowly. "It is a question about stealing." He paused, starting to speak, stopped again. Finally, "Is it stealing to take from another something that cannot be held in your hands?"

"Ah! Not a mere question but a riddle-question, at that. What is this thing that cannot be held?"

"A - an idea. A way of doing something."

"A better way than others now use."

"Yes. A new way, one that could lead to great honor."

Crane-man lay back down again. He was silent for so long that Tree-ear thought that he had fallen asleep. Tree-ear sighed and lay down himself, thinking, thinking....

...And therein lived the question-demon: If Tree-ear were to tell Min what he had seen, would that be stealing Kang's idea?

Crane-man's voice startled Tree-ear.

"If a man is keeping an idea to himself, and that idea is taken by stealth or trickery - I say it is stealing. But once a man has revealed his idea to others, it is no longer his alone. It belongs to the world. (p. 62, 64).
Park's descriptions of artistry are beautiful, too. I guess I just wanted more. I've decided I want the Newbery winners to really grab me, or to linger in my memory. This is a beautiful little book, but the story just didn't satisfy me the way my favorite Newbery winners have. I do think that anyone interested in either ceramics or Korea (especially its history) will enjoy this a great deal.

Here are some celadon ceramics from Linda Sue Park's homepage (note that there are story spoilers in descriptions of the pieces on this page). The pictures can't be enlarged, though, so check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art's page on Koryô celadon.

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