Tree-ear is a 12-year-old boy growing up in 12th Century Korea. He is also an orphan living under a bridge in a small village with an older, invalid man, Crane-man, who has taken care of him since his parents died.
Tree-ear longs to learn the ancient art of Korean pottery from Min, the best potter, in Tree-ear’s opinion, in the village. Day after day Tree-ear hides in Min’s back yard watching the master at work, until one day, finding himself alone in the yard, he picks up an exquisite tiny piece of pottery only to drop it when startled by the great man himself. In payment for destroying the small porcelain box, Tree-ear offers nine days of free labor. Those nine days turn into 18 months of mainly free work chopping wood and gathering clay down by the river.
One day word arrives that the royal court is looking for a new potter from their village. The competition ends up being a two-stage event and Min is requested to personally bring a sample of his beautiful pottery to the royal court for the final selection, but Min feels he is too elderly to make the trip. Tree-ear volunteers to make the arduous and dangerous journey for him, with the understanding that Min and his wife will care for Crane-man in his absence.
I don’t want to give the whole story away, but the book title hints that there’s trouble during the trip. Will Min win the coveted honor? What about Tree-ear and Crane-man? What becomes of them? You can learn all the answers by reading just 176 pages!
Linda Sue Park is American born and raised, but uses her writing to study and better understand her Korean heritage. In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, which she won in 2002 for A Single Shard, she describes her almost non-English-speaking parents carefully teaching her to read English at age four, and taking her and her siblings to the local public library every two weeks to check out deliberately chosen book titles recommended by the ALA (American Library Association) periodicals that her father meticulously read. According to Ms. Park, the best children’s authors share two characteristics: curiosity and enthusiasm! I have to agree.
Middle Grade Reading Level, 176 pages, Books for Boys, Korea, Newbery Medal, Published 2002.