Elephants and Golden Thrones: Inside China’s Forbidden City, by Trish Marx, is a captivating inside look at the largest museum in the world. Anybody – child or adult – with even a passing interest in Chinese history and culture will sink right into this book. Marx covers a lot in only 48 pages, beginning with the story of Emperor Yongle, the ruler known as the Black Dragon, who was responsible for commissioning the Forbidden City. Each subsequent section of the book begins with a story of an Emperor or Empress as a lead in to many amazing glimpses of what life might have been like inside the palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The book is quite text heavy, but the informative sections are broken up nicely by the mini-narrative interludes which offer more personal insight into the rulers themselves. The text is very accessible too. It is not too complex for a younger reader, and yet it doesn’t oversimplify the content.
Part of the appeal of Elephants and Golden Thrones is the photography by Ellen Senisi. The pictures are quite beautiful, conveying the majesty, mystery and richness of the Forbidden City. Along with “never before published” photographs of the rooms, gardens and architecture of the palace, there are pictures of many artifacts and artworks to complement the text.
Good timing on the part of Abrams, as the book is released in July, just in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It will be a lovely addition to classroom/school and public libraries, and I expect that children who happen to be studying Chinese culture will find it both informative and engaging.