The Silk Princess
by Charles Santore
Reviewed by Kelly Herold
Charles Santore takes an ancient Chinese legend about the discovery of silk from silkworms and turns it into a story of magic and adventure for the school-aged child. Indeed, The Silk Princess is a picture book best suited for children who already enjoy The Magic Treehouse or The Spiderwick Chronicles. It's a picture book for children
entranced by wonder of myth and enchantment.
Princess Hsi-Ling Chi is the lone and ignored daughter of The Emperor Huang-Ti. Even though Hsi-Ling is an obedient and well-behaved child, she can never live up to her brothers in her father's eyes.
One day, Hsi-Ling is enjoying her tea in the royal gardens when a cocoon falls in to her tea. The cocoon begins to unravel in the hot tea and Hsi-Ling tells her mother, "'I will tie this end of the thread around my waist, and you, Mother, will hold the cocoon. I shall walk away from you, and we shall see how long this fine thread is. I will go to the end of the gardens, should the thread reach that far.'" The thread--not only a silk thread perfect for weaving, but also a symbol for one's first steps away from home--reaches much further from the garden. Hsi-Ling walks as far as the Palace, the Holy
Mountains, and a bridge, under which a fearsome dragon lives. When Hsi-Ling crosses the bridge and defeats the dragon, she meets an old man who teaches her the secret of silk thread and promises to accompany her home.
Santore uses the language of myth and legend in The Silk Princess, never simplifying for the sake of genre. Moreover his palate is sophisticated--full of browns, oranges, reds, and dark greens--perfect for readers beginning to learn more about art. What is most striking about the visual aspect of The Silk Princess is how Santore highlights Princess Hsi-Ling's face. While all the characters are painted in a realistic style with
only slight exaggerations, Hsi-Ling's face is mobile and infused with light. In every illustration, she is the focus as light and shadow play upon her beautiful, expressive face.
The Silk Princess is highly recommended for readers ages six to ten. Don't be afraid to give it to older children as well--children who may be studying legend or China in the fifth and sixth grades.