Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Single Shard - 2002 Medal

This seemingly-simple story is full of lovely imagery and characters to care about.

In an interview in a teacher's edition of this book, author Linda Sue Park said "three ideas - the pottery, family, and journey - are the basic threads of the story." Research on Korea for her earlier books showed "that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Korea had produced the finest pottery in the world, better than even China's, and I decided to set my third novel in that time period," according to her Newbery acceptance speech.*

According to the interview, "the idea of family...is crucial to Korean society: I made Tree-ear an orphan because I wanted to explore what family means to someone who has no blood relations.... I also wanted to write an adventure story because I loved reading them when I was young, and still do! I love traveling...So I knew right at the start that I wanted Tree-ear to go on an exciting journey." (And, according to her Newbery speech, her son, an admirer of Newbery Honor Book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, "wanted me to write an adventure story, a road book.")

In her author’s note at the end of the book, Park writes, “Every piece described in the book actually exists in a museum or private collection somewhere in the world.” Her website has some photos of celadon work and other items and locations that are mentioned in the book (spoiler alert), including the Thousand Cranes vase (also pictured below left).

I thought it was interesting that in her Newbery acceptance speech, Park, who is of Korean heritage but only visited the country as a child, thanks Simon Winchester, author of the bestseller The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, for his descriptions in his earlier book Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, as his 1987 walk went on the route from Puyo almost all the way to Songdo.

She also credits 1966 Newbery Medalist I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. "In that book, the orphaned black slave Juan de Pareja becomes an assistant to the painter Velazquez and is eventually freed by his master, which enables him to pursue his own painting career. The ending speculates on how a certain Velazquez work came to be painted, just as [A Single] Shard speculates about that [Thousand Cranes] vase."

This is a quiet book that might take more than one reading to be fully appreciated (it did for me).  Kids probably won't pick it up on their own (the cover pictured above or at right don't help; a newer cover pictured below right is at least more attractive).  However, it would be a good addition to a study of Korea or Asia or pottery.

Graeme Malcolm is alright as the audiobook narrator, but I found his British accent - especially his pronunciation of "ate" as "et" - distracting.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

 [The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library. I also referred to a teacher edition print copy I own. A version of this review also appears in Bookin' It.  

*Park, Linda, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2002, Vol. 78, Issue 4, pages 377-384.]
Thousand Cranes Vase  / CC BY-SA 3.0
Latest cover of A Single Shard