This historical fiction by Linda Sue Park is published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Tree-ear, a 12th-century Korean orphan, lives beneath a bridge with his crippled, old friend, Crane-man. When Tree-ear breaks an expensive piece of pottery created by an artist named Min, he works off his debt and becomes Min's assistant. Though Tree-ear dreams of making his own pots, Min seems bent on using him solely for menial tasks. When a royal buyer wants to see Min's work, Tree-ear offers to make the treacherous journey to the palace with the vases. Robbers attack Tree-ear and destroy Min's pottery, but Tree-ear continues the trip and presents a single shard of a broken vase to the king's emissary. The shard provides enough detail to convince the emissary to offer Min a royal commission. Tree-ear returns home and finds that Crane-man has died. Min and his wife invite Tree-ear to live with them and plan to teach him to be a potter.
Crane-man, though homeless and too crippled to work, has somehow cared for Tree-ear since the boy was 2 years old. With gentleness and love, he shares many wise proverbs while teaching Tree-ear about pride, honesty and the natural world. Min "barks" many commands at Tree-ear and hides his affection for the boy. Min lost his own son, and Tree-ear reminds him of the child. Min's wife stealthily provides food and clothing for Tree-ear and Crane-man, so as not to injure their pride, and asks the boy to call her Ajima (a nickname like “auntie”). In the end, Min and Ajima adopt Tree-ear. Min even agrees to teach him to be a potter, a trade traditionally passed down from father to son.
Other Belief Systems
Tree-ear lives in a Buddhist culture, where monks help the poor and bells ring to summon people to prayer. Crane-man ponders what animal he will be in the next life. He attributes sickness and agitation to demons. Both Crane-man and Tree-ear fear foxes because they believe the creatures "posses an evil magic that can lure a man to his doom."
In the tale of the "Rock of the Falling Flowers," women jump to their deaths.
Newbery Medal, 2002
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What would have happened if Tree-ear had given up and gone home when the robbers broke the vases?
When have you been tempted to give up?
What has helped you go forward instead of going backward?
- Can you imagine what your life would be like if you didn't have a family?
Why is it so important to have a place where you feel as though you belong?
What often happens to people who feel they don't belong anywhere?
- Many children around the world today live without homes or families.
What are some ways you could help children who are in need — maybe in your own school or community?
- What happened in the story about the "Rock of the Falling Flowers"?
Should the women have jumped to their deaths?
Why do you think the story ended in this way?
What would have been a better ending?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.