BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan Emperor of EverythingLet’s start with the last pages first: Kathleen Krull notes in her “Author’s Note” that “[i]nformation about Kubla Khan is sketchy.” Her illustrator Robert Byrd adds that “[p]ictoral references dealing with the Mongol empire are limited and problematic.”

With so few sources, Krull and Byrd have managed to create a remarkably believable record of a man who “may be the least known, most mysterious of history’s great leaders.” Their story is told so convincingly, that closing their kiddie book happens with a definite sense of satisfaction, mixed with a piqued interest in learning more. Serendipitously, I happen to also be alternatively reading/listening to Jack Weatherford’s nonfiction adult title about Kubla Khan’s grandfather, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, and the two titles do make quite an enlightening pair.

But back to the esteemed grandson …

Kubla Khan’s 13th-century Mongol Empire included Russia, Korea, Tibet, and chunks of the Middle East. “Kubla Khan didn’t know about the Americas, or he might have figured out a way to conquer them as well,” Krull suggests. He succeeded his legendary grandfather, Ghenghis Khan, who united the warring Mongol tribes by 1206; Kubla continued to grow “the world’s largest empire” when he became Khan in 1260. His success would not have been possible without careful planning by his mother, “a woman nobody messed with.” His second wife, too, was an influential advisor, even bold enough to yell at Kubla when she see fit.

What little remains of Mongol history remembers Kubla as an “unusually fair” ruler. He was tolerant of other religions (holy moly!), championed the arts without censorship, promoted literacy, and even ushered in “a golden age for Chinese theater.” He supported the sciences, advanced agriculture, standarized paper money, and tried to give every boy an education (he would have done better to educate the girls, ahem!)

He also seems to have been quite the glutton with lavish palaces (yes, he built the incomparable Xanadu) and a penchant for bacchanalian parties. He had multiple wives, countless concubines, over a hundred children, and 12,000 bodyguards. He’s also the great Khan that welcomed Marco Polo, sparking a whole new cultural exchange.

Even if a fraction of these tall tales are true, Kubla Khan would still be a legendary ruler. History is rather relative, and not always reliable … but as good stories go, the Khan’s life told by Krull and Byrd certainly makes for memorable, fascinating kiddie literature.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010


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