The introduction of Tree-ear in the story paints the picture of an unfortunate boy who was left by his parents to the care of the monks. Desperate to find someone who will take care of the young boy, they brought him to Ch'ulp'o where a lame named Crane-man kindly accepted him. All his life, Tree-ear lived in dire poverty under the bridge with the compassionate Crane-man who instilled in him moral excellence amidst their hard situation. Thus, Tree-ear grew without stealing or begging for food and other basic needs but instead he uses his abilities in order to survive. Throughout the story, the humor of Crane-man enhances the story through passages which enlivens the reader amidst the horrifying situations faced by the two main characters.
Tree-ear's love for pottery has been sparked through his admiration for the master potter named Min. The ambition of the boy to become a potter seemed to be an unreachable dream for someone like him recognizing the social mobility in Korea during that time is impossible. Being just a poor orphan, he was expected to become a slave and labor worker without acquiring any skill to boast of. However, he still hid behind one of the master potter's houses in the village in order to watch how Min skillfully turn the potter's wheel and make intricately designed pots and vases. One day, he accidentally broke one of Min's works and he was made to pay for the damage by working for his master. Instead of being disheartened, he was glad because he finally found a way in order to learn Min's trade. However, he was treated badly and Min was never appreciative of his effort. The story reached its climax when a new potter learns a new technique which is superior to Min. As the palace was looking to commission a huge project with the best potter, Tree-ear was torn into telling Min about the new technique even as he broke the piece that the master potter asked him to deliver to the emperor.
A Single Shard is a story which embodies characteristics which should be taught inside the classroom. The travails of Tree-ear together with his endurance and perseverance is set to inspire students into excellence amidst the difficulties that they need to go through and requirements that they need to accomplish. In this world where people are often recognized based on the amount of money that they have and not on their character, the story is a challenge for children to uphold a high moral standards. Tree-ear is a good example of a person who stood up for what he believes is best even if everything seems to be against his principle.
The story is an interesting way in teaching various topics inside the classroom. The culture of Korea which is so intricately woven in and out of the story can aid the teacher in enabling the students to appreciate social studies. It should be noted that the concepts of social classes, the view of the fox as an evil creature, Tree-ear's high-esteem to elders and the role of the monks in caring for the poor people in the society all displays tradition which are very Asian. By using the story, the students will be able to relate to the everyday life of an orphan in the 12th century Korean village.
A Single Shard also offers very interesting information on the art of pottery making it a good reference for arts subject. The author Linda Sue Park is undoubtedly