Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Bonnie Christensen

A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen is a sweet story with pleasant illustrations and ample educational information. Subtitled “A Story of the Silk Road,” Christensen’s picture book informs its readers of that famous trade route which connected Asia and Europe hundreds of years ago through an engaging tale of a young Chinese girl named Mei.

Three years before the writing of A Single Pebble, Christensen received a request from the International Museum of Peace and Solidarity in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Some quick research revealed to Christensen that Samarkand was a stop along the trading routes of the Silk Road. After a few more hours of reading, Christensen writes in A Note from the Author, not only had the Silk Road stolen her heart but a story had started to evolve.

The result is a heart-warming tale about Mei who wants to follow her father to market. When he tells Mei, her job is to stay home and care for their silk worms, she asks him to instead take her pebble with him as a “gift for a child at the end of the road”. Although he advise her that he doesn’t ever travel to the end of the road (and no traveler of that time ever did due to distance and dangers) Mei confidently believed he would find a way for her pebble to go that far. And if her pebble could travel to the end of the world, so could she!

Indeed it does. From China through central Asia to Europe, through the hands of a Buddhist monk to a sandalwood trader, to a performing acrobat, and eventually to a thieving pirate, the piece of jade makes its way to a surprising destination. Atmospheric and colorful illustrations provide lively snapshots of life on the Silk Road, as the seasons and settings change, with each new exchange between traders. The simple text also gives context clues for readers who are unfamiliar with the historical period.

Educators will also be pleased to know that both an endnote, which includes a bibliography, and detailed maps on the endpapers give extensive background information about the Silk Road. Christensen has done her research well.

Besides its entertainment value, A Single Pebble might also inspire activities within the classroom. Young readers might contemplate their own single items, which could have in ancient times been traded. Older readers might be intrigued to know that travelers along the Silk Road often endured blazing heat, sand storms, freezing cold, and a threat of attack from bandits. Moreover, travelers often had to cross mountains and deserts, before they reached their destination. Such details might inspire older readers to write their own “Silk Road” stories.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Tomorrow I’ll review A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen. To enrich my understanding of this picture book, whose subtitle is “A Story of the Silk Road”, I researched some of its cultural background.

The Silk Road is considered the most enduring trade route in history, being at its height of popularity from 200 B.C. to 1400 A.D. It linked Asian and European regions in commerce. The trade system functioned as a chain, with merchants shipping goods back and forth from one center to the other. Both land and sea routes were used. Since the transport capacity was limited, over long distance and often unsafe, luxury goods were the most often traded. Ships being able to transport commodities faster and cheaper marked the downfall of the Silk Road by the 16th century.


The name for the trade route comes from its prized Chinese textile of silk. Many other items were also part of the exchange on the Silk Road. Domestic animals such as horses from the West were imported particularly in China. Camels, mules and domestic dogs were also traded. Plants and medicines found their way through the trade routes. Pharmacological items were as important to ancient peoples as they are today. Jewels such as jade, coral, pearls, carnelian, ivory and lapis lazuli were other luxuries being traded. Useful items such as industrial minerals used in dyes, gunpowder and paper also traveled along these routes.

However, the Silk Road was valuable for more than just its trade of material goods. Technology, cultural expressions, and religious beliefs were shared on the Silk Road. A famous example of a Chinese invention that helped to transform the world is paper. Paper was invented during the Han dynasty, probably just at the time the Silk Road trade was beginning to flourish. The Silk Road also served as a vector for the diffusion of religions, initially Buddhism and later Islam. On the negative side, diseases were also dispersed along the Silk Road, as evidenced in the spread of the bubonic plague of 542 CE which is thought to have arrived in Constantinople by way of the Silk Road and which decimated the Byzantine Empire. As such, it was a major influence in the development of our modern civilization.


For a timeline, map, and detailed definition: Ancient History Encyclopedia

For more info about the cultural exchange: Travel Guide China

For an entire website with photos, resources, and travel guide: The Silk Road Society


Among the useful links referred listed by Bonnie Christensen in the end pages of A Single Pebble is The Silk Road Project, which is a current organization. Below is an explanation of it and a link to YouTube videos which they have produced.

Founded in 1998 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Project is inspired by his many years of traveling as a performer, he presented a vision for the Silk Road Project as an entity that would connect the world by bringing together artists and audiences from around the globe. It presents performances by the Silk Road Ensemble, commissions new musical and multimedia works, and develops educational programs and materials.

Born in 1951 in New York, Bonnie Christensen, is an author, illustrator, and playwright. Her interests outside of writing include travel, violin, and printing history. I’ll provide some background tomorrow to her picture book, A Silk Road, and review it on Wednesday. Save the dates: April 8-9!


She began her career in children’s literature in the 1990’s. When asked by Cynsations, what she enjoys most about the creative life, Christensen described: the moment of creation, the freedom to explore, the research involved, the change brought about within a person during creation, and the fun of creation itself.

Initially, Christensen viewed success as the ability to move beyond being a one-book wonder. Then she viewed it as the ability to keep going, and to have work lined up. One can even view success as books published, awards earned, and action figures based on one’s work. Now Christensen views it as making the best possible books for herself, which will also keep make her audience happy.  

ALLISON: How did your parents or siblings influence your creative growth?

BONNIE: My mother was interested in art and music and so took advantage of every opportunity to expose my sister and me to the best art and music available. One summer she enrolled me in a museum art class which I did very poorly in because my cheap oil paints wouldn’t produce a convincing shade of purple.

ALLISON: Are you an author or illustrator first?

BONNIE: I’m first an author. I think in terms of story from the very beginning, then I take a break, transform into an illustrator and try to imagine the book visually. The illustration process takes WAY more time than the writing.

ALLISON What is your favorite medium?

BONNIE: My favorite medium that I’ve used for book illustration is original fresco for Pompeii Lost and Found. Maybe it’s the fact that the artist has a limited time to work before the painting surface (similiar to concrete) dries and no more paint will adhere.

ALLISON: What is the best medium for young people to start with?

BONNIE: I suppose watercolors which are not at all easy but teach many good lessons.

ALLISON: Did you come to publication early or late in life?

BONNIE: I didn’t start writing and illustrating for children until after I’d worked at one career in the New York theatre, moved to Vermont and had a child of my own.

ALLISON Who has been your favorite person to research? Have you met any of them in real life?

BONNIE: Woody Guthrie was both a fascinating and fun subject to research. Some of his writing is very funny and history of the time in which he lived contains endless stories of hardship and resilient human spirit. Djano Reinhardt was fascinating as well. I was fortunate to meet Woody’s daughter, Nora, at the Woody Guthrie Archive in New York.

ALLISON: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be?

BONNIE: I’d be a concert violinist. It’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring than to play a gorgeous piece of music with an a large group of fellow musicians.

ALLISON:What inspired A Single Pebble?

BONNIE: A strange connection to Smarakand which I discuss in the book along with other reason for being inspired by the topic.

ALLISON: What research was involved in writing it? Illustrating it?

BONNIE: I read numerous books both for text and illustrations as well as consulting many internet sources. I’d hoped to be able to travel to Samarkand but the trip wasn’t possible

ALLISON: How important is it to stay authentic to the culture being portrayed?

BONNIE: Extremely important which is why thorough research is so very important.

ALLISON: If you could pass one object from one trade route to another, what would it be?

BONNIE: A single jade pebble of course. I have one on my desk as a reminder.

ALLISON: Where have your own travels taken you?

BONNIE: My research travels have taken me to many areas of Italy as well as Paris. It’s rough work but someone has to do it.

ALLISON: What’s next?

BONNIE: A book VERY different from A Single Pebble–a picture book biography of Elvis Presley, at this point the title is simply ELVIS! The book chronicles his difficult childhood and teen years with the remainder of his life described in an author’s note and time line. It will be published just in time for Elvis’s 80th birthday next January!


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