Historical Fiction for Children: A Writer’s Point of View

We are looking at historical fiction books from a writer’s, rather than a reader’s, point of view. In doing so, we’re rather like Min in A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Yet Min isn’t a writer at all, but a potter.

Unique among the other potters in his village who only come public with their finished best pieces, Min works from start to finish in an open-air shelter. Anyone can watch him interacting with his clay—Tree-ear does. Park tells us the other potters worry their designs will be copied; surely ego must also be involved. We imagine the potters were told they had talent from an early age, and as a result, they don’t want to be seen struggling to create art. It makes sense to me that Min is the most successful at the end. As James Hamblin says in his article, “Don’t Call Kids ‘Smart’,” “’Smart’ kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.”

I view Min’s pursuit of his craft as very much like the writing process, and his attitude as very community-, or education-oriented. He would probably say he does not care whether watching him try, and try, and try again helps anyone else. But owning the process in such a natural way, making the process visible, especially where children are around, is as enabling as seeing other writers draft and evaluate and revise in a workshop setting. The moment where Min—and later Tree-ear also—pauses and studies the clay before him, as if trying to learn what it wants to be, tells us a good deal about the writer’s point of view.

At one point, Tree-ear, in his frustration at not being allowed to work with Min, prepares clay for himself and makes a monkey for his friend, Crane-man. Park validates that effort of Tree-ear’s by having Min discover the monkey and offer Tree-ear an apprenticeship on the basis of the quality of that piece, teaching us the lesson that the urge to create—to write—comes from within. We own it, and it will out.

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