I greatly enjoyed reading A Single Shard last week with our middle two girls, ages nine and ten.

Tree-Ear is an orphan boy who lives under a bridge in 12th century Korea with Crane-man, a homeless man with a bad leg. He epitomizes the saying, “The wisdom of the wise is an uncommon degree of common sense.”

They spend much of their days looking out for each other, trying to scavenge enough food from garbage heaps to keep them both alive, and finding great delight in the simplest of things.

Tree-Ear becomes apprenticed to the greatest potter in Ch’ulp’o, Min. Min’s unlikeable, emotionally abusive character is rooted in years of pain and sorrow from losing his only child, a son who would have been Tree-Ear’s age.

Though never excused by the author, Min’s behavior helps the reader better understand how “hurt people hurt people.”

Min’s wife, Ajima, has turned her grief into compassion; she cares for Tree-Ear as if he belonged to her, and is patient with her difficult husband. She is a good example of what it means to have a meek and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:3)

Every few years, the emissary from the King’s palace visits the greatest potters of the region in search of a new style to bring back to the palace.

Tree-Ear does everything in his power to see that Min receives the commission, including transporting Min’s incredibly fragile works of art through the mountains to the palace.

Tree-Ear is attacked by bandits who leave him injured with no food, but worst of all, they smash the pottery he was entrusted with. Carrying a single shard to the palace, Tree-Ear is confident that any emissary worth his salt would surely be able to see the talent and skill of his master’s hands.

Tree-Ear’s intuition was right. He excitedly returns to Ch’ulp’o by escort to tell Min the good news. Alas, he is met with devastation: his friend, Crane-man, has died.

In a conglomeration of emotions, Min’s heart is softened towards Tree-Ear; he and Ajima give Tree-Ear a new name, and their home becomes his – forever.

A Single Shard demonstrates how doing right by others, no matter who they are or how they’ve treated us, has the power to soften rough edges and warm hearts.