We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year.
We have just launched our new reading theme for May-June: Walking the Literary Silk Road – China and the Middle East.
Two weeks back, I shared about Tutankhamun (written and illustrated by Demi). This time, I am excited to share another picture book biography of a great emperor from China.
Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything
Written by: Kathleen Krull Illustrated by: Robert Byrd
Published by: Viking, 2010
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Kubla Khan is the ruler of an empire so vast that included both the Middle East and China. He was able to significantly expand his warlord Grandfather’s, Genghis Khan’s, Mongolian empire to include Russia, Korea, Tibet, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan – just to cite a few. It was amazing to read Kathleen Krull’s characterization of Khan as a child and how he eventually became “the emperor of everything.”
What struck me the most as I was reading this picturebook biography, is how Kubla Khan was deemed as fierce and fearsome, but also fair and progressive in his thinking. While the Mongolian warriors were often perceived as nomadic barbarians, slaughtering anyone who stands in their way, Kubla’s mother made sure that Kubla knew how to read and write in the Mongol script. His mother was also described as a formidable character whom people are afraid to mess with.
Even as a child, Kubla had a deep fascination with the Chinese culture with their beautiful silks, their rich farmland, and their thick sturdy walls that kept out foreigners, such as the Mongolians. When he became the Khan of all Khans at forty-five, he worked towards conquering China as he was fascinated with how civilized they seem to be.
In 1271, they eventually succeeded in battering the walls with flaming torches, and boulders hurled from catapults and he declared himself the first emperor of China’s Yuan or Mongol dynasty.
Over and above the lavish lifestyle that he enjoyed while he was in power, it was fascinating how the arts flourished under his leadership – from the printing of books, the craftsmanship of the exquisite blue and white porcelains, and the golden age of Chinese theater. He also surrounded himself with scholars, thinkers, Buddhist monks, Muslims, Turks and listened to what they had to say. Foremost among his many admirable qualities is his open-mindedness when it comes to religion:
Kubla tolerated any religion as long as its people revered him as the great Khan – a rare attitude when in other parts of the world, religions were often the cause of war. As for his own beliefs, he kept them private.
Instead of simply executing everyone who disobeyed him, he often made them pay fines, have their heads shaved, or leave the empire. From everyone he inspired fear. And often respect. But not necessarily love.
As per usual, Kathleen Krull has written an engaging and accessible biography of a powerful man who as claimed by historians “introduced the East and West to each other.” The Author’s and Illustrator’s Note also included the reearch process that Krull and Byrd went through to create this picturebook. There is also a list of sources that they have pulled together meant especially for young readers that teachers might want to check out.