A Single Shard

by Linda Sue Park

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What connections can be made between A Single Shard and the world?

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The boy's journey is about learning and growing, with the help of a mentor and the hard work needed to develop mastery.

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One way that this tale connects with contemporary reality is through its emphasis on the importance of creativity. While the senior potter has achieved mastery of his art, he has also gotten stuck in a fixed attitude toward the work. The joy of creating, which comes from infusing new energy into the process and from innovating, has largely left him.

The freshness and innocence that the boy brings to ceramics is necessary, but not sufficient to enable him to make the kinds of beautiful things that the potter excels in. Whatever the art, practice and discipline are also needed to succeed. There is no substitute for his own creative spirit, but he needs a mentor and knowledge of the whole process.

Furthermore, the idea of getting past a setback is emphasized. The boy's journey brings the tragic loss of almost all the pots. But the boy still has the last shard, which contains all important essences of the potter's gifts. The boy had to follow all the steps in his journey.

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A Single Shard tells the story of a young boy whose enthusiasm repeatedly causes him to make errors that he could have avoided by being more careful. These errors cause him to harm the very thing he's enthusiastic about: first, Min's pottery; then, Min's chance to be potter for the Emissary. Making mistakes like this is a very relatable experience for many people.

Through these experiences, Tree-ear remains hopeful, and he works hard to correct his errors. This is a common character trait in stories that is also borne out in the world. Tree-ear's third mistake happens out of chance, rather than because of his overeagerness, but Tree-ear is just as enthusiastic to correct it as ever. The forgiveness he is shown by the Emissary when Tree-ear presents the broken pottery shard is a way of showing the Emissary's humanity; this is another connection between the story and the real world.

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A Single Shard shows us that the world is often an unfair and harsh place, but offers lessons about how to deal with it that we can apply to our own lives. While we, of course, don't live in twelfth-century Korea, we do face some of the same challenges that Tree-ear does. For example, Tree-ear desperately wants to learn to make pottery on the wheel but cannot do so because that knowledge is reserved for Min's sons. In our world, we might face a similar problem if we want to learn something, for instance, to become a doctor but can't because we don't have the money for medical school. The book shows, however, that being honest, helpful and learning everything possible can open doors for us in unexpected ways. We shouldn't give up.

We also learn a life lesson from the book about generosity, loyalty and caring for others that we can apply to our world. Even though it means he has less to eat, Tree-ear always saves half his lunch for Crane-Man. In our world, we too can remember not to leave people who have helped us behind when we begin to be successful. An overall lesson that we can apply is that, whether we realize it or not, people watch and notice what we do and how we behave—especially the small things we do—and this influences how they treat us and the opportunities they offer us.  

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What connections can I make between A Single Shard and myself?

Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard is a powerful story that explores many relatable themes such as the importance of respect, appreciation for people who are like family, and the value of taking risks. When relating the story to your own life, you might consider if you have had any formative experiences in your childhood that taught you about some of these topics. For instance, you might not have had a unique experience like Tree-ear's in which an older man took you as his apprentice, but maybe you have found a mentor in someone older the same way Tree-ear found one in Min.

In addition, reflect on some other elements of the story, like the traits characters have, and consider if you can connect them to your own life. For example, while you might not personally relate to Tree-ear's experiences as an orphan or his need to scavenge for food, you might relate to facing a great deal of responsibility at a young age. Similarly, many readers might relate to Min's desire for perfection, even if they don't do pottery. Perhaps you also take a great deal of time with certain work because you want it to be the best you can possibly do.

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