cover image The Empress and the Silkworm

The Empress and the Silkworm

Lily Toy Hong. Albert Whitman & Company, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8075-2009-3

Falling into the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category, the story of silk-its path from pupa to necktie-is inherently pretty interesting. But toss in a 5000-year-old Chinese legend about the discovery of silk, and the story becomes even more intriguing. One morning, around 2700 B.C., a cocoon falls into the empress Si Ling-Chi's teacup. The cocoon unwinds in the hot tea, revealing its delicate strands and prompting the empress to dream of seeing her husband, the Yellow Emperor, ``clothed in a robe woven from the heavenly thread.'' Silk production begins, the emperor gets his robe, and the empress becomes known as ``the Lady of the Silkworm.'' Unfortunately Hong's (Two of Everything) illustrations deaden the brilliance of their subject. Airbrushed, her acrylics and gouache pictures feel pale and washed out, the characters moon-faced and silly. The static quality of the art, sadly, dominates the volume. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)