Chengli is an orphaned errand boy who lives in Chang'an China in 630 A.D. His mother has died from illness and his father is presumed dead after disappearing into the desert when Chengli was a baby. Now thirteen, Chengli feels ready for independence. He is drawn to the desert, beckoned by the howling of strange winds and the hope of learning something about his father-who he was and how he died. Chengli joins the caravan to travel down the merchant route kwn as the Silk Road, but it is a dangerous life, as his father knew. The desert is harsh, and there are many bandits, particularly drawn to Chengli's caravan because a princess, her servants, and royal guards are traveling with them. This story invites readers to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of this fabled desert route.
Hildi Kang is a former educator, a writer, and active traveler, having made trips by foot, bike, and llama. An early love of books and maps led to dreams of the blue-domed mosques of Samarkand and the donkey market in Kashgar. In the 1990s, the Soviet Union barriers fell, and Kang, her husband, and two companions (plus driver and interpreter), spent a month following the trade routes around the Taklamakan desert in the northwest province of China and crossing into Uzbekistan to follow the road from the cities of Khiva to Samarkand. Friendship overpowered the lack of a shared language as they sat in a family's courtyard shaded by a grape vine trellis, struggled to climb the sand mountains near Dunhuang, hiked in a Kazakh mountain community followed by a five-year-old on horseback, elbowed a path through the donkey market of Kashgar. As they drove eight hours on the one and only paved road between Khiva and Bukhara with nothing at all in sight except flat, barren, desolate land, she vividly imagined a camel caravan making the same trip, when suddenly the realization hit that the trade routes are still in use: camel caravans have become truck caravans using the same but recently paved road, and travel is still in groups, for the dangers haven't changed. Photos preserve the trip; the story of Chengli shares it. Closer to home, Hildi Kang is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and as an educator, she taught elementary Special Education, conducted seminars in teacher training, and served as guest lecturer in Korean studies at various universities. Her writing includes five books for elementary school teachers, an entry in Fire and Wings, the dragon anthology of Cricket Books, and two academic books on Korean history. When not writing or traveling, she hikes, bikes, and plays cello in a local orchestra. She and her family lived many years in the town of Clarence Center near Buffalo, New York, and currently reside in Livermore, California.