One of my all time favorite Newbery winners is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I love the story and the history that goes with it and Linda Sue Park does such a beautiful job of writing that I made it a regular in my read aloud rotation when I was still in the class room. It was a book that students didn't generally pick up on their own, but when they heard the story they loved it too. I added it to one of our early Newbery Club reading list and as usual, the kids who read it loved it.
It was because of A Single Shard that I was drawn to Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang. I found it on the same Twitter list I mentioned earlier and the subject matter drew me in. Chengli is a boy in ancient China, working as a laborer for a silk merchant in Chang'an China, the trading center for all of the caravans coming across the desert.
He is drawn to the desert by a mysterious wind that only he can feel or hear. Chengli believes it is the spirit of his dead father, a well respected inspector. He finally reaches a point of not being able to resist the calling of the wind and runs away from his master and the old cook who served as his guardian after the death of his mother. He joins a caravan that is headed across the desert as camel keeper. As fate would have it, his caravan is chosen to escort the girl princess who has been promised in marriage to a distant king.
Hildi Kang does a masterful job of describing the difficult life of the caravan. Walking for days and weeks and months on end through hot deserts, fighting bandits and protecting themselves from unscrupuolous fellow caravan workers. On the journey Chengli and the princess develop an uneasy friendship and when he is responsible for saving her life twice, their friendship becomes strong.
Chengli's journey is not a waste. Along the way he meets officials who knew his father and don't believe the son of such a respected inspector could be working as an animal keeper for a caravan. Chengli is able to convince them by showing them the one clue that links him to his father and the story ends with the promise of a bright future.
Hildi Kang brings the reader into the desert with the caravan and the excitement of the chase when the princess is kidnapped is hard to put down. It's obvious from the detail that she has done her research and she tells the story of Chengli in a way that is interesting and easy to read. With cliff hangers in every chapter, this would make a great read aloud and I think it deserves more attention then it has been given.