This post includes language arts and interdisciplinary activities for A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. It’s part of a series that shares language arts and interdisciplinary activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why A Single Shard?
- A coming-of-age story featuring an orphan boy, offering the opportunity for comparison and contrast to numerous other popular works among gifted students
- Historical fiction with insight into 12th-century Korean culture
- A mixture of adventure and art
- Social-emotional topics that include
- exclusion and belonging;
- understanding of a different culture;
- the discovery and pursuit of talents and interests;
- taking responsibility for one’s actions; and
- Engaging, challenging interdisciplinary connections in chemistry; physics; history, and philosophy
- Winner of the 2002 John Newberry Medal
About the Book
His home under the bridge outside the village of Ch’ulp’o is the only one he has ever known, and Tree-ear considers himself lucky to have it. After all, he was a nameless, homeless toddler when Crane-man took him in ten years ago. Since then, Crane-man has taught him to forage for food, keep warm, and savor the simple joys their limited way of life offers. Together, they make the best of what they have. Besides, neither has anywhere else to go. Crane-man is disabled, and Tree-ear is an orphan. In 12th century Korean society, both are destined to be outsiders.
Although he accepted his fate long ago, Tree-ear’s imagination has grown restless. Whenever he has a moment to spare, he heads to Potter Min’s house. From his hiding place in the woods, he studies the master potter’s technique at the throwing wheel or sneaks a closer look at his newest pieces. Watching him transform misshapen lumps of clay into such exquisite vessels—flawless in symmetry, shape, and color—makes Tree-ear’s heart soar! If only he had the chance, could he learn to do the same? One fateful day, Tree-ear is so busy day dreaming that he gets caught trespassing in Potter Min’s yard. As punishment, Tree-ear finds himself doing the reclusive potter’s chores and spending less and less time with Crane-man, especially once the villagers hear the royal emissary for pottery ware is on his way to Ch’ulp’o. Will Tree-ear’s assistance enable Potter Min to earn the highest honor, a royal commission? Will the master potter defy tradition and give an orphaned boy the chance to become his apprentice? Will Tree-ear leave Crane-man behind?
About the Author
Since she was very small, reading has always been Linda Sue Park’s top favorite thing to do, and believe it or not, she became a published author herself at the age of nine! Seeing one of her poems printed in a children’s magazine inspired Park to continue writing stories and poems throughout her childhood, and her parents encouraged her efforts. Her love of books even led her to study English literature in college. Park tried out several different jobs (such as public relations writer, food journalist, and teacher) before settling into a career writing children’s books. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, she is dedicated to helping young readers make positive, meaningful cross-cultural connections, particularly between America and Asia. Park has won numerous awards for both picture and chapter books, including the 2002 Newberry award for her novel A Single Shard. She has also contributed two novels to a popular collaborative writing project with which you may already be familiar: The 39 Clues. To learn more about Linda Sue Park, especially the books she thinks every kid should read, visit her personal Web site.
Watch Linda Sue Park’s Tedx Talk “Can a Children’s Book Change the World?”
Have you taught A Single Shard or other books by Linda Sue Park?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- Based on what you know of their situation, do you think Tree-ear and Crane-man are outsiders in Ch’ulp’o by choice or necessity? Why?
- How did they get these names?
- How do their names compare with others’ in the community?
- In this culture, how might one’s name be a reflection of his or her place, or value, in society?Both Tree-ear and Crane-man have unusual, nature-based names (7).
- Obviously, securing enough food is a prime concern for Tree-ear and Crane-man on a daily basis. They are willing to rummage for scraps in the village rubbish heaps, eat plants that most people consider “weeds” (27), and scour harvested fields for overlooked grains of rice. According to Crane-man, “these [are] honorable ways to garner a meal, requiring time and work. But stealing and begging . . . [make] a man no better than a dog. Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away” (6). Crane-man and Tree-ear would rather go to bed hungry than act dishonorably.
- How do you think these two characters maintain such a positive outlook despite the many challenges they face in life?
- Why do they cling to their sense of honor even though they have so little?
- In what way(s) does Crane-man’s withered leg affect his day-to-day activities? What special skills and abilities has he cultivated despite his disability? In what way(s) is he an artist himself? Be sure to include specific examples from the text for support.
- Based on what you have read so far, what observations can you make about the homes, clothing, food, religion, traditions, and customs of 12th century Korea?
- How do these cultural elements influence the way Tree-ear lives, thinks, and interacts with others on a daily basis?
- How does Tree-ear’s culture compare with your own today?Works of historical fiction, like A Single Shard, bring people and events from the past to life and help us understand the human experience in a more meaningful way than textbooks can.
- Try creating a Venn diagram to help you visualize the similarities and differences. Think about the ways in which a typical young person’s life has changed over the last nine-hundred years or so.
- In the final chapter of the book, Tree-ear returns home only to find that his best friend, his only family, has died. At first, he feels shocked, heartbroken, and guilty for leaving Crane-man alone for so long. After some time, though, Tree-ear’s thoughts turn to the invaluable lesson he learned from his friend: “One hill, one valley . . .” (148). With that lesson in mind, Tree-ear resolves to “make replicas, dozens if need be,” until his dream of creating a perfect prunus vase is realized (147). How will Tree-ear’s “journey” to create this piece help him find peace and honor the memory of his friend Crane-man at the same time (148)?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
- Taking a Scientific Approach to Pottery – with activities on the different chemical reactions involved in pottery; how mathematical modeling can predict the outcome of different glazing techniques; and how innovative technologies help us study ancient pottery and use ceramics in high-tech devices.
- Motion, Momentum, and Energy of a Potter’s Wheel – with activities exploring Newton’s Laws of Motion and centripetal force.
- Putting 12th-Century Korean Culture into Perspective – with activities to help students compare the 12th-century Korea of A Single Shard with historical developments in other parts of the world during that time (using a Web tool called Histography), as well as a more in-depth comparison and contrast of Korean and Chinese perspectives on history, trade, technology, art, and religion during this period.
- Confucianism in Korean Society – with activities on Confucius’ life, work, and influence throughout Asia during the 6th century BCE; the revival of Confucianism in China around the time of A Single Shard; Korean social and political customs rooted in Confucius’ five basic ideas about behavior and five basic virtues; and the differences between Confucianism and prominent religions observed in Korea over time.