In this Korean tale we meet the orphan Tree-ear, who despite all the hardship and challenges life has thrown at him, is inspired by the beauty of the traditional ceramics created in his village. His desire to learn the craft takes him on a journey that will change his life forever.
This story is as exquisite as the twelfth century Korean ceramics it describes. The characters are complex and developed whilst being a product of their traditions and culture. A study of these characters provides an opportunity to explore how a community’s cultures and traditions can be a great comfort, support and source of pride but also how they can restrain individuals within that community who do not fit perfectly. Craneman, a homeless sage, who has taken care of Tree-ear since he was a baby provides wisdom, humility and humour. Exploration of this relationship and then Tree-ear’s relationship with the potter, who he works for, and his wife creates an opportunity to question what family means. If reading this book to a class it would be important to be sensitive to any children who are adopted or looked after or who have lost a parent through bereavement. But this doesn’t mean it should be avoided as it illustrates beautifully that family love comes in many forms.
These are just two of the many themes that can be explored through the reading of this story. With older children I would also want to share the author Linda Sue Park’s foreword and author’s notes as they will stimulate discussion about immigration, the power of reading, and what might inspire a story inside of us. I also challenge anyone not to desire to see the Thousand Cranes Vase that inspired this beautiful story.
John Newbery Medal 2002
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