Heritage-Key.com - Lynette Eyb
"Jessica Gunderson has written a swathe of children’s titles for Picture Window Books, most of them set in the ancient worlds of India and China. They form Historical Tales, an innovative and intelligent series designed to introduce children (and their imaginations) to ancient civilisations. This is one of her Chinese tales, and it’s a worthy addition to the series.
The book opens, like most of the Historical Tales stories, with a useful ‘words to know’ section that provides the definitions of or descriptions for such things as the Great Wall of China, the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road and Confucius. Putting these names in historical context is a huge improvement on the ‘words to know’ section in previous books, such as The Horse on the Hill. That book gives the dictionary definitions for words such as ‘chariot’, ‘surrender’ and ‘conquer’, and upon reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder whether a child old enough to understand issues surrounding sacrificial ceremonies would not be old enough to already know these words (or at least be inquisitive enough to ask an adult if not). So the move towards more historical background here is a good one.
There is also an introduction, told through the eyes of the central character and narrator, Song Sun. In it, she sets the tone for the story, which is a loose moral lesson based on these words of Confucius: “Speak enough to make the point, then leave it at that.”
Song Sun Shoots Her Mouth Off
We are in Han Dynasty, in 167BC, and Song Sun, as the introduction suggests, talks too much – much, too much. It’s not giving anything away to report that in the early chapters of the book, she encounters a stranger on the silk road (hence the title), to whom she unwittingly unveils the secret of Chinese silk production. The man turns out to be a foreigner masquerading as a Chinese, and his newfound knowledge of silk production foreshadows dire conseqences for Song Sun. It not only threatens the livelihood of her family – her father is a wealthy silk merchant who built his fortune after years of toil in the fields – but also the future of the entire Chinese silk industry.
What follows is Song Sun’s desperate attempt to make amends for her indiscretion, and her efforts to rescue China from financial destruction and widespread embarrassment.
Like all the books in the Historical Tales series – and especially those by Gunderson – the book can be read on several levels and appreciated by children of varying ages (though intended for kids aged 9-12). The story explores issues such as the Chinese tradition of binding young girls’ feet, the secrets of how silk was produced in ancient China, the importance of forgiveness, and how new and surprising friendships can result from the most unusual of circumstances.
The Added Extras
Each page is adorned with brushed pen and ink illustrations by Caroline Hu, an artist used across the Historical Tales series.
An afterword goes into more detail about the Silk Roads and their importance as trading routes. There is an explanation of how for thousands of years China kept to itself the secrets of silk making, finally exporting them with successive generations of Chinese immigrants. We learn as well that silk was just one important Chinese invention (others included gunpowder, tea and magnetic compasses). Quibbles include the lack of an apostrophe in Xi’an, and a map that would benefit from the addition of more place names – the map in Stories From The Silk Road by Barefoot Books is many times more useful.
On the last page, the book (like all others in the series) promotes FactHound, an online resource to help kids find out more about the issues raised in the story. This is a great idea, and goes some way to ensuring books remain relevant in the internet age. However this tool isn’t as good or as user-friendly (or as interesting or as fun) as a similar offering by British children’s publisher Usborne.
On the whole, The Stranger on the Silk Road is an interesti" - Heritage-Key.com
August 11, 2009