The Empress and the Silkworm

Almost five thousand years ago, the young Chinese empress So Ling-Chi was having tea in the garden. Suddenly - plop! - something small and round and white fell into her cup. It was cocoon from a mulberry tree.. In Si Ling-Chi’s hot tea, the tightly wound cocoon, the tightly wound cocoon started to unravel. She plucked it out and found it was made of a fine, simmering thread. With the help of a dream, the empress realized that these shining strands spun by tiny worms could be woven into a fabric almost magical in its beauty. But she had to convince her husband, the emperor, and skeptical advisers that the work should be undertaken. At last, because of the vision and persistence of this young woman, the first silk cloth was made. Lily Toy Hong’s lively telling of a Chinese legend if illustrated by pictures as rich and radiant as silk itself. Ages 4 and Up.
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
Albert Whitman & Company
Morton Grove
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Average: 5 (1 vote)


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Carissa Skavery

Field of Interest/Specialty: 3rd Grade
Posted On: 06/03/2013

The Empress and the Silkworm is a heartwarming, soothing, and entertaining story of the origin and development of silk in ancient China. The story begins one morning, around 2700 B.C., when a cocoon falls into the empress Si Ling-Chi's teacup. The cocoon then unravels itself in the tea, exposing its delicate strands of silk. This leads the empress to envision this silk as a lucrative and beautiful material that would be quite beneficial to China.It becomes so lucrative, that the origin of silk becomes a deep rooted Chinese secret for thousands of years.
Not only will my third grade students enjoy this intriguing story, it will also coincide nicely with my unit, "Asia at a Glance." I have found many resources online to supplement this story, such as creating their own life cycles of a silkworm, or Bombyx mori, as they are referred to in the story, and unraveling their own silkworms. This story is also riddled with excellent vocabulary for third grade, as well as may symbolic elements that we could really develop through discussion. I enjoyed the final page of the book that delved into the history of silk in China. It helps students not only to learn about one of China's greatest exports, but also how the silk is actually manufactured. I though the illustrations were quite true to China and showcased many Chinese elements, such as their clothing, cherry blossom trees, and architecture. I felt as though the story had a great balance between Chinese folktale elements and nonfiction factual details. Overall it was a wonderful story, and I know my students will enjoy reading it together next year!