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Imagine that you want to be good - really good - at something.
But you're too poor to get the equipment you need to practice. Say you feel like you could be a great basketball player, but you don't have shoes, or access to a basketball court, or even a ball.
That's like the situation that Tree-ear is in. He's living in Korea, hundreds of years ago. He's an orphan, he's homeless, and he's so poor that he lives under a bridge with a friend, and forages for food.
But very often, he goes to hide in the trees outside Min the potter's workshop, to watch Min at work. Min is a master. He works slowly, but when he does finish, his work is better than anyone's. Tree-Ear imagines, while he watches, that someday - if he could ever get clay, if he were ever able to work on a potter's wheel - he could make pottery like that. And then one day, Min is away, and Tree-Ear can't resist going into his workshop to see the finished pieces.
(Read bottom of page 15 to "How dare you touch my work?")
Can things get any worse for Tree-Ear?
Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!
- The book begins with a joke and a story, and jokes and stories--especially from Crane-man--continue all through the book. What do you think of Crane-man's sense of humor? How do the jokes and stories help him and Tree-ear face the hard realities of their lives?
- In some ways life in Tree-ear's world is very different from ours in the here and now. What are some of these differences? What are some similarities? Can you imagine Tree-ear or Crane-man or the potter Min living in your neighborhood as modern Americans? What would they be like? What about Kang the potter who invents a new way of decorating pottery?
- Crane-man says that seeing the fox actually changed his life, causing him to stay under the bridge instead of going on to the temple. "Between the fox and you," Crane-man tells Tree-ear, "I was destined never to become a monk!" What does Crane-man mean by "destined"? Is destiny mostly a matter of luck or does it come from qualities in the characters themselves?
- Were you surprised when Tree-ear, too, had an encounter with a fox? How does the fox affect Tree-ear's "destiny"?
- Where does Tree-ear get the courage for his dangerous mission? Is he already brave before the trip or does his courage grow as he goes along?
- Do you think the potter Min is an admirable person? Why or why not? Why does he change in his attitude towards Tree-ear?
- Because of his pride as an artist, Min nearly misses his chance to get the royal commission (pp. 87-89). Crane-man's pride makes it hard for him to take meals in trade for work while Tree-ear will be away (101-102). Yet it's partly pride that makes Min a great artist and that makes the lame Crane-man such a strong person. Then there's Tree-ear, a despised orphan who dares to talk to the royal emissary. How does pride work in our lives, according to the author?
- At the beginning of the story Tree-ear tells how he managed to get some rice from a traveling farmer. How does this brief episode prepare us for the rest of the book? What do you get out of Crane-man's idea that "Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself"?
If you liked this book, try
- Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
- The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park
- The Kite Rider by Gerald McCaughrean
- The Sign of the Chrysanthemum by Katherine Paterson
- Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi
Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.