Written By: Linda Sue Park
For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about A Single Shard and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!
Set in twelfth century Korea, A Single Shard tells the tale of Tree-ear, an impoverished orphan who dreams of becoming a potter. He spends hours watching an esteemed potter, Min, as he works, and one day offers to work as an apprentice for Min in the hopes that he will one day be taught this beautiful craft. What Tree-ear doesn’t realize is that a potter will only pass down his knowledge to his own son so Tree-ear is left to continue performing assorted tasks for Min. Everything changes when Tree-ear is instructed to transport his master’s pots to an emissary for inspection but finds himself in a predicament when he encounters robbers along the way. Although the robbers destroy the pots, Tree-ear still presents the emissary with a single shard of pottery that suffices to exhibit his master’s artistry. Tree-ear embodies the values of diligence and perseverance that you and your child can admire. Here are some questions that can help you discuss this story with your child.
- In the beginning of the story, Crane-man tells Tree-ear that“Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” What do you think he meant by that? How does that statement prepare us for what happens in the rest of the story?
- This story is set in Korea in the twelfth century and Tree-ear tells the reader information about his daily life in his village. How is life in this time period and region different from life today where you live? How is it the same?
- The master potter, Min, is very critical of Tree-ear’s work and is described as very gruff and unwilling to give any approval. Why do you think he acts this way? What has happened in his life that could explain his attitude?
- Foxes play a very important role in this story. What significance do they hold in Korean mythology? How do they appear to Tree-ear and Crane-man in the story and what affect do the foxes have on the decisions that Tree-ear and Crane-man make?
- After Tree-ear’s encounter with the fox, he laughs out of relief because he walked away unharmed and says “We are afraid of things we do not know-just because we do not know them.” What does this statement mean to you? Discuss a time when you feared something or someone simply because you did not know or understand it, and in the end had nothing to fear.
- When Min’s precious vases were smashed by the robbers, Tree-ear went to the base of the cliff where they had been thrown and tried to salvage the pots. Why didn’t he just go back to his village and Min empty-handed? Why did he retrieve a shard and continue on to the emissary?
- At the end of the story, Tree-ear goes to live with the potter Min and his wife and is given a new name. What is the significance of the new name that he is given? How does Tree-ear feel at the end of the story? Why does he feel that way?
Discuss the characters in this story with your child. Who were his/her favorites? Who would s/he most like to join for dinner? Imagine situations and consider how Tree-ear or other characters might react.