Thursday, May 5, 2011

Niggling curiosity

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang takes us to the court of Kublai Khan in 1270s where we are introduced to his (fictional) granddaughter, Emmajin.  It is through her eyes that we learn more about this place, time and the leadership of Kublai. 

Emmajin’s story is about her struggle to take on the nontraditional role of soldier within her Grandfather’s army.  In serving the great Khan, she is asked to spy on newly arrived foreigners from the West: Marco Polo, his father and uncle, to learn of a weakness that would allow the Mongols to conquer Christendom.  Initially, she’s not happy spending time with Marco but gradually she overcomes cultural misunderstandings and differences, to learn about the world beyond her grandfather’s kingdom. Eventually, she does fight in a brutal battle and learns that, at heart, she is not a soldier, after all. So what is her role to be?  One of her own devising and worth reading to find out about.
I did enjoy Emmajin’s story but I was even more caught up with wanting to know more about Kublai Khan.  I know a little about Genghis Khan, grandfather to Kublai, mostly as a ruthless but brilliant ruler of the Mongols responsible for uniting them and expanding the empire.  Kublai also follows this expansionist vision but also desires to learn more about intellectual, artistic, and religious beliefs of outsiders.  He was tolerant of different religions.  He did not rule with the same level of intense brutality more characteristic of Genghis.  He sounds almost benign.  I’m curious to learn more.

Though I will look for a more thorough book about Kublai, I revisited Kathleen Krull’s recent illustrated book Kubla Khan, the Emperor of Everything (950.2 KrK 2010 PIC BK).  It is very informative and provides some additional information about Kubla’s innovations in governing such a vast empire.

Unfortunately, the two books are written for different grades levels – Daughter of Xanadu will appeal to readers in grades 8-10 and the nonfiction title, Kubla Khan, the Emperor of Everything works best for those in grades 3-6. 


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