The secrets of Chinese papermaking are disclosed to the Arabs in this intriguing piece of historical fiction. Chinese annals give A.D. 105 as the date the world's first true paper was presented to the Emperor. Knowledge of the process traveled slowly westward, reaching Europe on the eve of the Renaissance. According to the author's note, victorious Arab troops captured several papermakers after winning a battle in 751 with the Chinese in Turkestan. This well-written, rhythmic story casts those anonymous papermakers as Old Wu and his young grandson, accidental witnesses to the engagement. To avoid being sold into slavery with the other prisoners of war, Young Wu boasts to the Sultan of Samarkand that his grandfather can make clouds. In seven days, Grandfather manufactures paper as the Chinese did, with hemp and lye. Adding poetry and drama to the process, Young Wu describes each step as if the end product will actually be a cloud. The Sultan, who knows a sheet of paper when he sees one, prizes the elderly man's knowledge and rewards him for teaching his skills. Watercolor paintings bring a remote time and place to life, capturing atmosphere, dramatic cloud formations, light of moon and sun, and the characters' emotions. While the story is well told and interesting enough to stand on its own, it would certainly enrich children's own efforts at making paper by hand, as well as studies of Asian history.
--Margaret A. Chang, North Adams State College, MA (Amazon.com)