Debbie Glade recently reviewed a fascinating book about spider silk called Stronger Than Steel, so it seemed perfectly natural for her to review this book about silk worms.
The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves ($17.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-10) was written by traveling photographer, Richard Sobol, who also authored two other books I reviewed: The Mysteries of Angkor Wat and The Life of Rice. Oh, how I envy this author’s work, as I cannot think of anything better than traveling to far away places as a photojournalist, learning about the world and sharing that knowledge with young readers. I cannot be the only person on earth who has always wondered how silk is made and woven. So let’s find out how it’s done!
The book starts with the history of silk and the travels of Marco Polo on the Silk Road. Did you know that Polo’s journey took 24 years? Did you also know that silk made in Thailand is all woven by hand? That is where the author of this book traveled to learn about the process of how silk is made.
What readers learn is that the only food silkworms eat are the leaves of the mulberry tree. So not only do silkworm farmers have to raise the worms (actually caterpillars), but they also have to constantly grow mulberry trees for the worms, who are constantly eating. Silkworms molt numerous times while growing and this requires them to eat 50 times their weight in food!
When the silkworms are in the cocoon stage, they are bright yellow. The adult pupa spit out liquids that make strands of silk, and these cocoons are boiled to release all the strands. (The boiled worms are actually eaten by the villagers, who dip them in red pepper sauce.) There is a process to dye and weave the silk which is equally as fascinating as the cocoon process. Silk is not only luxurious, but also very strong and durable. In the back of the book is a page with silk facts and a glossary of terms.
What I love about this book is that it is easy to read, very informative, and the topic is so interesting. The photographs are excellent, and the author does a terrific job interviewing people involved in the process of making the silk. Now that I know that it takes 40 hours of spinning by hand to make one pound of Thai silk, I have a new found respect for this beautiful fabric.