Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China with 21 Activities

Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China with 21 Activities

by Janis Herbert

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The Far East comes alive in this activity book centered on Marco Polo’s journey to China from Venice along the 13th-century Silk Road. Kids will join Marco as he travels by caravan through vast deserts and over steep mountain ranges, stopping in exotic cities and humble villages, until at last he arrives at the palace of the Kublai Khan. Woven throughout the


The Far East comes alive in this activity book centered on Marco Polo’s journey to China from Venice along the 13th-century Silk Road. Kids will join Marco as he travels by caravan through vast deserts and over steep mountain ranges, stopping in exotic cities and humble villages, until at last he arrives at the palace of the Kublai Khan. Woven throughout the tale are 21 activities that highlight the diverse cultures Marco encountered along the way. Activities include making a mythical map, creating a mosaic, fun with Feng Shui, making paper, and putting on a wayang-kulit (shadow-puppet play). Just for fun, kids will learn a few words of Turkish, Persian, Mongol, Hindi, and Chinese. A complete resource section with magnificent museums and their Web sites invites kids to embark on their own expedition of discovery.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The book offers suspenseful stories, as Polo and his men face shipwrecks, bandits and other dangers.” —The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Morning News
The book offers suspenseful stories, as Polo and his men face shipwrecks, bandits and other dangers.
The Star-Ledger
Lots of pictures and tidbits of information to capture young imaginations.
Celebrate the Chinese reading Marco Polo for Kids-and getting your kids involved in 21 historically based activities.
Washington Parent
The activities are fantastic...there are wonderful graphic elements and pop-up boxes of interesting tidbits on folklore, language, religion, animals, geography, and art.
Publishers Weekly
In her historical activity book, Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China, 21 Activities, Janis Herbert chronicles the famous explorer's travels along the "Silk Road" to the palace of the Kublai Khan. Projects feature the various cultures that he experienced. For example, kids can make a mandala (a Tibetan circular sand painting that symbolizes the circle of life) and play "Eagle and Chicks," a Chinese game. Archival artwork and prints add to the handsome volume. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The twenty-four year period in Marco Polo's life that encompassed his travels to and from China remains one of the great adventure stories in recorded history. When young Marco departed from Venice he was a mere fifteen years old. When he returned, he had seen people, places and things that were not even dreamed of by his European kin. The China that Marco Polo, his father and uncle visited was a distant empire ruled by the immortal Kublai Khan. This Mongol sovereign governed a domain so vast that it made the Roman Empire seem minor. The Polos' experiences en route to China as well as those traveling across the Empire were so incredible that most people in Venice viewed the men as liars when they returned home. However, the passage of time proved their words to be true. Herbert's wonderful book presents young readers with the tale of Marco Polo's travels to the Far East. Also included are numerous activities that children can engage in that will amplify the account. Readers can try yoga, use Mandarin phrases, make their own yogurt or craft a Tibetan sand Mandela. This is a book that reads like a wondrous adventure novel yet is based on facts. It provides an insightful look at one of mankind's most fascinating journeys. 2001, Chicago Review Press, $16.95. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
For Kids Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Marco Polo for Kids

His Marvelous Journey to China: 21 Activities

By Janis Herbert

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2001 Janis Herbert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55652-377-9


A Journey from West to East

Marco Polo had been waiting for this day forever! His father, Niccolo, and his Uncle Maffeo had finally returned from a journey many years long. The boy had been only six when his father and uncle had left their home in Venice. Now Marco was 15! In those nine years, he had grown nearly to manhood. He had studied hard, so he could help his father with his business. When he was not studying, he spent his days wandering around Venice's busy wharves, where traders brought ships loaded with silks and spices, dyes, salt, and wool. Marco's mother had died during his childhood, making him doubly glad for his father's safe return. Now he listened to his father and uncle tell the story of their journey, a story that made Marco thrill with excitement.

Niccolo and Maffeo were successful merchants of luxury goods in the western world's center of trade, Venice. The aim of their long journey had been to establish ties of trade with the new rulers of the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea. The people of Europe were hungry for such exotic goods such as the silks and spices that trickled to their ports from distant lands to the east. The two Polo brothers, with trunks full of jewels to trade, had sailed to the Black Sea to visit the court of a wealthy ruler. Trading was good, and they stayed for a year. When they wished to return to Venice, however, they found that war raged across their route. Cut off from home, they decided to continue their journey in another direction.

They found themselves in strange lands among nomadic (wandering) people who herded livestock and lived in wide tents. After a long and dangerous desert crossing, they came to a magnificent city, Bukhara. Here they made their home for three years. One day, they met an ambassador on his way to visit the supreme ruler of the Mongol Empire. The ambassador persuaded the brothers to join him on his journey to the palace of Kublai Khan, the man who ruled the largest empire in the world.

It took a year for the Polo brothers to reach their destination. Their journey took them through many countries, over high mountain ranges, and across forbidding deserts. Finally, they reached the court of Kublai Khan, where they received a warm welcome. The Khan had never met anyone from their land and was very curious about their country and customs. He asked many questions about their form of government, their religion, and their leaders. When they told him about the Pope, who was the head of their church, Kublai Khan questioned them at length. In all of his vast empire, he had subjects of many religions, but he had never before met any Christians. They told him about their beliefs and explained their religion. The Khan, who was very curious about religions, asked them to take the Pope a message. He asked that the Pope send 100 of the west's wisest men to his court, men who were masters of the "seven arts" (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). He asked the brothers to return with the wise men and to bring him a vial of oil from a lamp in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem).

When the Polos were ready to return to their homeland, the Khan gave them a long tablet of gold marked with a special inscription. With this tablet, the brothers could obtain lodging, horses, and provisions in all of the towns along their route. While this made things a little easier, it still took them three years to get home! Snow, storms, and flooded rivers slowed their journey. Now, finally, they were home again. Marco marveled at the tales they told of distant lands and the great kingdom of Kublai Khan. Would he ever see such sights?

The Polos planned to keep their word to the Khan, but by the time they returned to Venice, the Pope had died. They had to wait a long time before a successor was named. Finally a new pope was in place, and he granted them an audience in the holy city of Acre (in Palestine). The Polos boarded a ship and set sail for the meeting place.

The Pope appointed only two friars to accompany the brothers to the Khan's palace — far short of the 100 wise men the Khan had requested. He gave letters to these friars to deliver to Kublai Khan and gave them expensive gifts of crystal to present to the ruler. He permitted the Polo brothers to take oil from the lamp burning over the sacred tomb. The Polos were now ready to return to the Khan's palace. In 1271, they set out on another long journey. This time, young Marco joined them.

Their ship took them across the Mediterranean Sea to the busy trading port of Layas. As they made preparations for a long overland journey, they heard troubling news. The Sultan of Egypt was leading a great army against his neighbors — bloodshed and destruction lay across the Polos' path! When the friars heard this news, they gave the Pope's letters and gifts to the Polos and went straight back to their monastery. They wanted no part of this dangerous expedition! The Polos, however, felt honor-bound to return to the Khan, with or without the friars. They joined a caravan (an armed group of traders traveling together for safety) and set out on horseback.


War was nothing new in the country the Polos were about to enter. Persians, Greeks, European Crusaders, Turks, and Mongols had all fought over it. They all wanted to rule the land (present-day Turkey) that straddles the continents of Asia and Europe.

People had lived here as far back as 7000 B.C. It was the home of one of the world's most ancient civilizations, the Hittites. The land was ruled for centuries by the Persians until they were driven out by Alexander the Great, a young Greek general who built an empire that reached from Greece to Egypt and India.

In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine took control of the Roman Empire and moved its capital here, to a great city that took his name — Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. Six hundred years later, this Eastern Roman Empire fell under the arrows of a nomadic Turkish tribe. These fierce warriors from Asia threatened all of Europe. The Christian pope urged the knights and nobles of Europe to destroy them. (This was the beginning of the wars called the Crusades.) Later, another Turkish tribe, the Ottomans, would invade the land. They crowned their sultan the "Emperor of Mighty Emperors, Terror of All the World" and created an empire that lasted for hundreds of years.

In Marco Polo's time, the country had recently been invaded by a group of warriors from Asia called the Mongols. With all this fighting going on, it was no wonder the two friars didn't want to go any farther. In spite of war and danger, the caravan moved on. Each mile brought new marvels. Wide-eyed Marco wrote notes about their travels and experiences. At first, they found themselves in rough plateau country where shepherds herded their livestock over grassy plains, wore clothes made of skins, and lived in felt tents. Then they passed through bustling cities where craftspeople and traders jostled each other in noisy bazaars (marketplaces). The people here wove the finest carpets in the world, in designs of exquisite color and beauty. All day, they sat cross-legged in front of their looms, twisting and weaving with nimble fingers. A carpet took months to make.

The Polos' route took them over twisting mountain roads with long views of steep, rocky ridges. The country "abounded in castles and cities," wrote Marco. Then it grew wilder, the mountains rose higher, and their path became more treacherous. Finally the land opened up before them and they saw an amazing sight — the high peak of Mount Ararat. Shepherds grazed their horses and sheep on the mountain's slopes. Others brought casks to the mountain to collect oil from a gushing spring. Marco found it astounding that they used this oil, not to eat, but to burn in lamps — who had ever heard of such a thing? Mount Ararat, Marco wrote, was "the Mountain of the Ark, on which it is said Noah's ark came to rest."

Marco made notes about the geography of the countries they passed through, their forms of government, and the customs of their people. He paid special attention to things that would be of interest to his trading family, such as the types of goods produced. Local legends and stories made a great impression on him. In one country, he noted, the "kings were born with the mark of an eagle on the right shoulder." In another, people wove "material known as mosulin from silk and gold thread." Over and over again he wrote that the countries were under the rule of the "Tartars" — the nomadic Mongolian tribes that had lately come to power. Marco was traveling through a vast empire — the Mongol Empire.

The Mongol Empire

Less than 100 years before Marco Polo started his journey, a boy named Temujin lived on the distant Mongolian steppes (plains). Temujin had been born with a blood clot in the palm of his hand — an omen of great destiny among his people — but as a boy, every day of his life was a struggle. His father was dead. He and his mother and brothers were starving.

Temujin's father had been a Mongol chieftain, a leader of one of the many nomadic tribes that herded goats, sheep, and horses across the high steppes of Mongolia. When Temujin's father was poisoned by an enemy band of Tatars, the rest of the family was abandoned by their tribe. Alone in the wilderness, they barely survived. But by the time Temujin was a teen, he had become a leader of men.

Like all the Mongol men, Temujin was an excellent rider. He rode as if he and his horse were one. With a small band of horsemen, Temujin made daring attacks against other tribes and grew to be a powerful and fearless leader. His herds and band grew. He married, but shortly after their marriage his wife, Borte, was captured by enemy Merkit raiders. When Temujin rescued her months later, his reputation grew even stronger. Over time many families, and then tribes, joined him. His growing forces destroyed his enemies — the Tatars who had poisoned his father, and the Merkits who had stolen his wife. Those who would not submit to him and join his army were killed.

In 1206, Temujin held a great council and called together all of the people of the land. When he raised a white banner showing his emblem of nine horsetails, the crowd cheered. They all agreed that Temujin would be their new leader, and they named him "Very Mighty Lord," or Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan built a great army, demanding that all the men between the ages of 14 and 60 join him. With his banner raised high, he led his army hundreds of miles to the east. The warriors galloped across wide deserts, sleeping in their saddles and drinking blood from cuts they made in their horses's backs. The walls built by the people of China to protect their towns from invasion were useless against these ferocious raiders. They stormed northern China, conquering millions of people. Then they turned and rode far to the west. They overpowered great empires, destroyed whole cities, and established Genghis Khan as ruler over all.

The Mongol warriors, dressed in leather and steel, would race in on their fast horses to fire a rain of arrows against their enemies. The sight of these sunburnt horsemen galloping in at full speed struck terror in the hearts of millions. They ruthlessly destroyed crops, leaving burning fields in their wake. Cities fell before them, and their citizens were butchered, or enslaved and sent to Mongolia. Before long, their empire stretched from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean, from Siberia to the Himalayas.

Genghis Khan died in 1227, while leading his men against a rebellious province of China. After his death, his soldiers leveled whole towns in the province. It is said that every person who saw the funeral procession on its way back to Mongolia was killed, so that none would know of Genghis Khan's death. He was buried secretly and, according to legend, 40 women and 40 horses were sacrificed and buried with him. His tomb has never since been found.

Genghis Khan's empire was divided among his sons and one of his grandsons after his death. One of his sons, Ogodei, became the Great Khan, ruler over all the others. He built a great capital, Karakorum, in the Mongolian homeland. Genghis's grandson, Batu, led a huge army across Russia and into Europe. His army was called the Golden Horde (horde means clan or tribe). Just as Batu was about to lead his Golden Horde on a terrifying raid against Vienna, he received word that the Great Khan Ogodei had died. Batu withdrew his army from the assault and returned to his homeland to be present when the tribes elected their new leader. Europe was saved.

After Ogodei died, another of Genghis's grandsons, Kublai, became the Great Khan. He conquered the remaining provinces of China and moved his capital from the Mongolian city of Karakorum to a city in northern China. (This was the destination of the Polos' journey.) From here, he ruled the vast Mongol empire.

Though the Mongols were ruthless in battle, they were moderate rulers. They demanded that their subjects pay them in gold, silver, and silk but they allowed the conquered peoples to follow their own customs and religions. Under Mongol rule, towns and roads became safer from bandits. The Mongols even adopted some of the customs of the people they conquered. Kublai Khan adopted the Chinese form of government and conducted Chinese rituals in his palaces.

Everywhere Marco turned, people talked about these new rulers, the Mongols. The great city of Baghdad (in today's Iraq) had long been the most important city of the region. In this noble and immense city, traders grew rich and scholars studied magic, physics, and astronomy. Marco was told that, when the Mongols invaded Baghdad, the Caliph (the city's ruler) had hoarded a huge fortune in gold, silver, and gems. When the Khan saw the Caliph's treasure trove, he scolded him for hoarding the riches. "Why didn't you use your treasure to enlist soldiers and defend your city?" he asked. The Caliph held his tongue. "Since you are so fond of treasure," the Khan said, "I will make you eat it." He locked the Caliph in a high tower with all of his gold and silver until the greedy man starved to death.


In Persia, the Polos' caravan stopped at Tabriz, a prospering town on the Silk Road. With its beautiful gardens of lush flowers and exotic fruits, Marco thought it the grandest of cities. Its bazaars were crowded with turbaned traders bartering for silk and other fine goods. They haggled in sharp voices over gemstones, fine swords, saddles, and enchantingly beautiful silks with embroidered birds and animals in every color of the rainbow.

Marco learned that Persia (a region we now call Iran) was an ancient land with a history dating back thousands of years. It became a great empire around 550 B.C. under King Cyrus the Great, whose armies conquered much of the Middle East and central Asia. It was said that Cyrus's yellow-robed troops were preceded by swarms of snakes, which sent people and herds stampeding in terror. Cyrus conquered millions, but he met his doom when he led a battle against the nomad queen Tomyris, who chopped off his head!

Generations later, when Darius came to power, he ordered his Persian subjects to dig a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea and to build a 1,700-mile-long Royal Road. Darius's couriers raced their chariots along the Royal Road to deliver messages to the king's satraps (governors).

Darius, a great warrior, expanded the kingdom and became ruler of nearly half of the civilized world. To celebrate his triumphs, he ordered the construction of Persepolis. In his awe-inspiring city, the buildings were covered in jewels. The entrance hall of one building was so vast it could hold his 10,000 bodyguards, all young men from the kingdom's finest families. Here Darius sat on his throne to receive gifts — camels and rams, jewelry and carpets — from subjects from every part of his empire. His was the world's greatest empire. It was crushed by the Greek general Alexander the Great, who defeated Darius III and burned Persepolis to the ground.


Excerpted from Marco Polo for Kids by Janis Herbert. Copyright © 2001 Janis Herbert. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Janis Herbert is the author of The American Revolution for Kids, The Civil War for Kids, Leonardo da Vinci for Kids, and Lewis and Clark for Kids.

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