The desert wind is calling Chengli to discover who his father is. He must work in a caravan that is travelling the Silk Road for answers.
Title: Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan
Author: Hildi Kang
ISBN: 9781933718545 Language: English
Classification: Fiction with historical tones
Themes: Silk Road, China
What’s it about?
Chengli works for a local silk merchant when he decides that it is time to leave the comfort of the only home he has known to journey out into the desert in search of learning about his father who he never knew. He obtains work on a caravan that is also escorting a rather obnoxious young princess. The days are long and tiring and when the caravan is attacked many lives are lost as well as the princess’s dowry. The caravan forges on but Chengli learns that a thief should never be trusted and finds himself accused of the most terrible crime that carries a death sentence and he is left to wonder if he will ever know the full story of his father.
The chapters are a good length if reading in the classroom – easily do a chapter or two in a lesson with reflection time. The research into Chinese history has clearly been extensive and is consistent with other novels I have read based in the same era. I’m also going to mention the ending – well done to the author for not falling into a a fairytale ending – the story has the ending it needed and for that I say the story is definitely worth embracing.
While I felt a fair bit of connection to Chengli I didn’t find the other characters as developed but since the story focuses on Chengli this is perhaps a personal preference for storytelling.
It’s sometimes difficult find books suitable for middle grades that aren’t overly long, boring, too-girly, too-boyish…you get the picture. What I liked about this book is that you do get a sentence of China, the climate and the hard way of life working on the caravans of the Silk Road.
In many ways the author could have chosen to make this a “happy” story filled with cliches and that “tied up with a pretty bow” ending. I am very pleased the author has chosen to go with a more balanced approach to storytelling. Yes, poor Chengli does have more than his fair share of bad luck and impossible situations but at the end of the day the story is focusing towards the ending and keeping the theme of Chengli learning about his father alive throughout.
There is definitely character development for Chengli. He goes from being a rather passive, skinny boy – to one who rides horses, learns another language, and stands up for himself when needed. The princess, Meiling, does grow from a whiny girl to a girl who knows her duty and purpose.
As Asian studies are becoming more integrated into the Australian classroom I would definitely recommend this one as a class novel. So much to explore and learn with additional research into Ancient China, the cities mentioned, occupations – and there is also a handy reference list at the end of the book that would help kick start this.