As kids get on and off my bus I see the books they are carrying with them. The books I see most often have characters who can shoot electricity, characters who have Gods as parents, or characters who can swing a sword and command dragons. A Single Shard is not one of these books. In fact A Single Shard is the antithesis of these books.
Compared to the action books nothing happens in A Single Shard. The major characters include an orphan and an old, one-legged man who live under a bridge; and a surly potter and his wife. How can an author get anyone to read a book with this cast? Perhaps if she gave one of them super powers or added magical creatures she would have more luck. Linda Sue Park didn’t do this. Oh, it’s true that the potter is a true artist when it comes to his pottery, and the one-legged old man can weave a mean pair of sandals out of straw, but these kinds of powers don’t cut the mustard on today’s best sellers list.
It turns out it is Linda Sue Park who has the super powers. She takes these quiet, unassuming characters and makes us care about them—deeply. Somehow she does this relatively quickly—in 152 pages—compared to the 1000+ page tomes other authors are putting out. It’s true this book is for children and by nature will be shorter, but this only increases my respect for her writing skill—what she did to me in so few pages.
The success of her book hinges on her ability to make me invest my emotions in the hopes and dreams of the orphan boy, Tree-ear. She creates an incredibly sympathetic character in this boy who is living what to us is a nightmare life, and living it with grace and courage. Using the insight of a true artist Linda Sue Park ignores what modern society would compel us to seek—security—and instead has Tree-Ear seek the creation of beauty. She does this convincingly.
Perhaps it’s because of the fact that Tree-Ear lives under a bridge, must seek food each day, and whose only companion is a one-legged man that we buy-in quickly when he runs into the remotest chance—through an unhappy encounter with Min the Potter—of becoming more than he currently is. As we learn to love the people whom he loves we learn to love him. By the end of the book—a book where seemingly nothing happens—we are ready to quietly go forth with determination to create beauty in our lives.