Nam presents a fleeting, exotic introduction to the invention of coinage.
Young Laos lives in Sardis in the ancient kingdom of Lydia (today’s western Turkey), nearby the river of gold: Pactolus. Laos comes from a family of traders and goldsmiths, the gold panned in plenty from the sands of the Pactolus River. Indeed, so bountiful is the Pactolus that the legend of King Midas was minted along its banks. As the city is a great marketplace, the people of Sardis understand the vexations of barter as a system of exchange. Laos is drawn by Sforza with pale skin, a shock of black hair, and glistening eyes, his elders bearded (some bald, others hatted, few women), with settings that capture the feeling of ancient wall murals. He relays that the merchants need to simplify their transactions: it needs to be something light that won’t rot. Maybe gold or silver? They send these ideas to the king for consideration. The king creates a coin stamped with the titular lion and declares it currency. That’s rather neat and tidy, a gold mine for “how”s and “why”s of the dismal science that are left unanswered. A long supplementary author’s note testifies to the story’s lacunae.
Lovely to gaze upon and offering characters with promise, but the story doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. (glossary, timeline) (Picture book. 4-8)