A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road

illus. by author. 40p. bibliog. map. websites. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. Oct. 2013. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-715-9.
Gr 1–4—This lovely story traces a pebble's journey on the Silk Road. Mei lives near Chang'an (Xi'an), China, in AD 850. As her father, a silk trader, sets off on his route, she is denied the opportunity to go along since she has to care for the silk worms. Instead, she gives him a jade pebble with the request to give it to a child at the end of the road. Mei's father takes the pebble to Turfan (Turpan), where he passes it to a Buddhist monk. The monk pairs a flute with the gift and takes it to Kashgar. Readers will see other items added to the pebble as it passes from traveler to traveler. Finally, the gifts are stolen by a pirate in Antioch, who takes them to his son in Torcello, Italy. Although many small treasures accompany it, the jade rock is the pirate's son's favorite. At the story's conclusion Mei does not know the details of the pebble's journey, but she is hopeful that one day she, too, will travel the Silk Road. The different settings and characters are woven together to create a wonderful tale. The colorful illustrations reflect the customs and culture of each stop on the trade route, and the simple text gives context clues for children unfamiliar with the setting and historical period. An endnote and detailed maps on the endpapers give extensive background information on the subject.—Erica Thorsen Payne, Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, Charlottesville, VA
A little girl living near Chang'an, China, in 850 AD longs to accompany her trader father on his travels along the Silk Road. Since she can't go herself, she gives her father a jade pebble, "a gift for a child at the end of the road." Her father mounts a horse to sell his silk in Turfan, there passing Mei's pebble to a Buddhist monk. The monk passes both pebble and his flute to a sandalwood trader in Kashgar, and so it continues until Mei's pebble and four more gifts end up in Torcello, Italy, presented to a pirate's son. Back at the eastern end of the road, Mei examines the tiny piece of blue glass her father brought her from the western end, resolving to travel herself one day. Christensen's soft watercolor and gouache illustrations feature intricate patterns in the style of each country visited and highlight the different ethnicities, architecture, and landscapes along the pebble's route. She makes each traveler distinct enough to easily pick out in the pictures, incorporating small, interesting details for a child to notice, such as the peacock and peahen on the street in Samarkand. Maps showing the trade route then and now compose the endpapers, and an author's note on the Silk Road's history, along with websites and a bibliography, are appended. susan dove lempke

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