Every evening for the past couple of weeks I’ve had an appointment in the Kingdom of Silk.
The Kingdom of Silk is a small patch of ground on the outskirts of a small Australian town. It’s remarkable for the wealth of love and creativity, the depth of compassion and brightness of sincerity you can find there. It’s a place full of peals of laughter, although visiting it is also known to squeeze gentle tears from your heart.
This magical location may sound vaguely familiar to you: It’s the setting of a series of short novels by Glenda Millard, the first of which I reviewed earlier this year. It’s not often I return to the same book on my blog (indeed re-reading more generally is something I rarely do, knowing that time is always too short and the worlds to be explored between the pages of a book are ever expanding) but back in February when I first entreated you to find a copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk, I had only shared one of the series with my children, and I was curious to witness how they would take to the honest, unpatronising, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of emotionally complex issues that continues across the entire series of Kingdom of Silk books. After all, fostering, dementia, refugees and world peace are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill themes for books for children.
These books (illustrated by Caroline Magerl and Stephen Michael King) have been our end-of-day bedtime delight for about a month now. I’ve been reading them to both M (10) and J (7) at the same time. We’re almost finished The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, and September, when the last book in the series (Nell’s Festival of Crisp Winter Glories) is due to be published, now seems unbearably far away.
I’m sharing all this with you because these evening visits to the Kingdom of Silk have been so quietly beautiful as a shared family reading experience that I’d love for you to be able to experience them too. Sharing the stories of the Silk family and how they face up to the challenges family life throws at them and seeing how they respond generously and kindly to problems faced by people they love has brought so many “tender moments” to our own family. It’s brought magic into our lives as the stories have made us see creative, enchanted opportunities where we didn’t see any before. This magic is pin perfectly described in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons, the 5th book in the series:
‘We’re all born with magic in us,’ she said. ‘A child’s magic is so powerful it sometimes rubs off on grown-up people. When that happens, they rediscover their own leftover magic and all kinds of remarkable things happen. Their limpy legs grow stronger and they don’t need as many naps. The words of long-forgotten songs and stories come back into their heads. Sometimes they compose completely new tunes and whistle them on red buses in the mornings when they’re going to the library to borrow books about interesting topics like magic puddings or very hungry caterpillars. And on cold, dark, dismal days they see fired-breathing dragons and knights in shining armour, where once they saw only clouds. People like this laugh loudly and often, and they smile more, because they’ve discovered the marvellous secret that leftover magic is a cure for gloominess and loneliness[.]”
The Silk Family have a wonderful institution: The OCCASION Breakfast. Each Saturday morning, a member of the family prepares a themed breakfast over which everyone lingers. This weekend M and J insisted on our first OCCASION Breakfast, which they themed around the colours of orange, yellow and red, honouring the Silk children Amber, Scarlet and Saffron.
Breakfast isn’t the only time food brings people together causing outbreaks of smiles and laughter. Cakes feature in every volume of the Kingdom of Silk. There’s a lovely passage (also in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons) about how the gift of a cake can quietly speak volumes. Ever so keen to try out the recipe for Amber’s Armenian Love Cake which Millard supplies, we’ve been baking them, gobbling them and giving them to friends.
Whilst I love cakes, if I had to choose between them and books, I’d have to forgo the sweet treats. And why? This short passage, from the sixth book in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, nails it:
On the bottom tier was a small cut-glass dish of sugar-coated aniseed rings, a plate of pink jelly cakes and a tattered copy of Anne of Green Gables.
It was Nell’s book. She’d had it since she was a young girl and had learnt a lot about being a better person by reading it, even though it was a mostly made-up story. From the moment her daughters were born, Nell read to them. it didn’t matter that they didn’t understand the words. books are many things: lullabies for the wary, ointment for the wounded, armour for the fearful and nests for those in need of a home.”
The Kingdom of Silk books are music to entrance and transport you, balm for bruised souls, practical tools for fostering empathy, and the most comforting, comfortable refuge at the ends of busy days. Lots of books come to life in our home but having seen how my daughters have taken these stories deep into their hearts and lives, their play and conversation, I wouldn’t be surprised if in forty years time it is these ones which my children remember most happily when asked to think of their favourite books of all time.