As a pebble that is “cool like the stream where I found it” travels the length of the Silk Road from China to Italy, exquisite, expressive artwork counterbalances a timeworn plot.
Mei, a young girl living in China in the ninth century, would like to travel the Silk Road. Instead, she must content herself with persuading her silk-merchant father to start her chosen gift of a pebble on a trip beyond his stretch of travel to “a child at the end of the road.” Tommaso, whose father is a kindly pirate, is the eventual recipient of the pebble and other gifts accumulated from, among others, a monk and a thief during the pebble’s journey. Preschoolers will enjoy the repetition of the phrase that concludes each transfer of the pebble, variations on “a gift from a girl…in the land where the sun rises.” There is gentle reciprocity in the piece of glass that Mei receives from Italy, but why, after a mere two years, does the story end with Mei’s father inexplicably deciding that Mei might, after all, make that dangerous journey next time? The richly detailed, lavishly colored watercolors authentically introduce diversity and history, but the first and final pages read rather like a nod-to-feminism afterthought. Facts embedded in the text are supplemented by a generous addendum.
Luminous artwork is the highlight of this child’s introduction to the Silk Road. (maps, author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book. 3-6)