Linda Sue Park: Children Love Books with "Fierce Adoration" | The Newbery at 100

The author of Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard talks about the Newbery's gifts, learning what it means to be Korean American, and that fan who read her book 62 times. 

Linda Sue Park and 'A Single Shard' cover.

In 2002, Linda Sue Park won the John Newbery Medal for A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001), a novel set in 12th-century Korea. Her win marks her as the second Asian American and the first Korean American to win the prestigious medal.

Throughout her career, Park has been inviting people into her world and the worlds she has set out to learn more about. Her stories have celebrated Korean food and family (Bee-Bim Bop! 2005), examined the joys and constraints of Korean girlhood (Seesaw Girl, 1999), and explored the painful history of Japan’s colonization of Korea (When My Name Was Keoko, 2002, all Clarion). Through meticulous research and carefully crafted stories, Park has enchanted more than one generation of readers.


Can you share your journey in writing A Single Shard?
My parents are immigrants who came to the United States from Korea in the 1950s. They raised me and my siblings with a lot of Korean culture, but I didn’t know much about the country’s history.

When I had children of my own, I realized that I wanted to know more about Korea, to share with them. So I began reading everything I could find about Korea, and I was fascinated by what I learned. Writing for me has always been a way to seek clarity. I started writing about what I was learning, and this exploration led to my first three books, the third of which was A Single Shard.

What are some challenges you faced while writing A Single Shard, and how did those challenges help you grow as a storyteller, a writer, a Korean American?
My greatest challenge was that I do not speak or read Korean, which meant that my research sources were almost exclusively in English. As you can imagine, this was a troubling limitation. But I discovered that, while language is among the most vital ways to connect with ancestral heritage, it is by no means the only way. What I find exciting is learning how historical Korean culture resonates today.

In A Single Shard, readers learn about how the accomplishments of an individual potter like Min bring honor and fortune not just to himself but to his family, his village, and his profession. This emphasis on personal choices made for the common good continues today. A simple example: mask wearing. In Korea, people wear masks not for their own safety but to protect their loved ones and the whole community. They’re frankly astounded that there would be any debate about it.

As my career progressed, I began writing about what it means to be Asian American. In hindsight, I think I needed to discover more about being Korean before I could start really digging into being Korean American. There are limitless ways to connect with your heritage. To all immigrants and descendants of immigrants, I would say don’t ever let anyone make you feel that your way isn’t valid.

How did winning the Newbery Medal impact how you see yourself as a storyteller and your trajectory as a writer?
It is difficult to express what the Newbery Medal meant for Shard. The award increased the book’s readership exponentially—beyond my wildest imaginings. So many more young readers have met Tree-ear and Crane-man than I ever thought possible. And on a personal level, becoming a Newbery Medalist meant that I was able to build a second career speaking and teaching, which has taken me all over the country and all around the world! What a remarkable gift that has been.

But as a storyteller? I don’t think winning the medal affected me very much on that level. I still find the blank page daunting and intimidating, I still have to use all kinds of tricks and strategies to overcome procrastination and writer’s block and impostor syndrome, and I still feel fortunate beyond measure to be able to do the work that I do.

You are the second Asian American to win the Newbery Medal. What does this mean to you?
I don’t think I really understood what it meant back in 2002. I was so new to everything—to the world of children’s publishing, to the idea of a major award, and, crucially, to the possibility that I might in some circumstances be seen as representing Korean Americans—yikes. I had only a vague realization that the tremendous honor of winning the medal would bring with it a great deal of responsibility.

But in hindsight, I had already spent a lot of time thinking about equity and inclusion in my own bumbling and untutored way. The last sentences of my Newbery acceptance speech were “Connect! Include!” I had no idea that inclusion would become the watchword that it is today, but every generation finds ways to renew language in the fight for justice.

To prepare for the speech, I learned how to sign those last two words in ASL so I could sign as I said them. I don’t know if anyone in the audience even saw that, but it was important to me to do so. I couldn’t have articulated it well at the time, but I was conscious that marginalization occurs in many ways. And I’m still learning....

What are some of the most meaningful reactions you’ve received from readers?
I’ll never forget Daniel. Back in 2005, when he was about 11 years old, Daniel stood in a long line in the hot sun, waiting for me to sign his copy of A Single Shard. When his turn came, he said, “I was keeping track of how many times I read this book, but I lost count after about 62.” His beautifully tattered paperback had tally marks penciled on the inside cover.

Daniel is an inspiration to me whenever I sit down to write: I try to make every single sentence worth reading at least 62 times.

You will never again love a book the way you do when you’re a child. Beyond that kind of fierce adoration, people remember their favorite childhood books for the rest of their lives. That’s what we get to do, those of us who write for young readers: We create the books that people remember forever. Privilege, responsibility, joy.

Sarah Park Dahlen is an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing