- A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road by Bonnie Christensen
Mei’s father, a silk trader in ninth-century China, will not take her along on his journey, but she convinces him to bring a small jade pebble to pass to others on the route, in hope that it will reach another child in Italy. Mei’s father concludes his business in Turfan, and he hands off the pebble to a monk bound for Kasghar. There the monk entrusts the pebble and his own wooden flute to a sandalwood trader, who in turn gives a sandalwood box containing those two objects to traveling acrobats in Samarkand, who forward the gifts and a tiny carved elephant to a poor traveler in Baghdad. He can only add a cinnamon stick to the box, which is stolen by pirates near Antioch. The pirate returns to his home in Torcello, Italy, and gives the box of exotic items to his son, who treasures most of all the jade pebble from “a girl in the land where the sun rises,” just as Mei treasures a tiny blue stone from Italy that her father purchased for her on his travels. Maps of the original Silk Road trading sites and the current names of these places help young children follow the pebble’s journey, and they illustrate the fact that a typical trek would generally constitute only a portion of the route; unfortunately, the journey of Mei’s blue stone, traversing the Silk Road from West to East, is less clear. Geometric patterning on buildings and shelters add visual interest, but the doll-like rendering of the people who ply their trades along the route are undifferentiated and somewhat stiff. An author’s note and a brief bibliography may assist adults in expanding the story for young listeners.