A homeless boy in a 12th-century Korean village makes himself surprisingly useful to a master potter.
Tree-ear has been living with Crane-man under a bridge, scavenging for food and comfort until one day he watches Min, the potter, becoming so fascinated he later creeps back to look at the finished pots. Surprised in the act, one of the pots is broken and Tree-ear must work to pay for the damage. The work is strenuous. Tree-ear aches and bleeds, but gradually he becomes accustomed to the work. Min allows him to continue to help in exchange for food from the master's kind wife. It is in the details that the story lays claim to a sort of Zen quality. Ethical decisions regarding acceptance of lunch and his responsibility to Crane-man are decided with fastidiousness and rectitude. Each choice of Tree-ear's shows an awareness of pride and dignity—not just for himself, but for Crane-man, Min, and his wife. Obtaining a royal commission to make pots worthy of the palace is at the heart of the plot. Intrigues, danger, and the same strong focus on doing what is right turn a simple story into a compelling read. Important details of the times are folded into the narrative without being obtrusive. Tree-ear's story conveys a time and place far away and long ago, but with a simplicity and immediacy that is both graceful and unpretentious.
A timeless jewel.(Fiction. 10-14)