This story is about an emperor's daughter, Shibumi, who lives in a far-away kingdom with her mother and father. Her father built her a garden and she was allowed in the garden but not outside the walls so that she would be safe. She can hear all of the sounds outside the walls and she hears other children saying that she is kept in there because she is so ugly. She climbs a tree to yell at them and from the tree she looks out over the city and sees that it is nothing like what she imagined. She is used to beautiful things and in the city she sees slave traders, beggars, and garbage in the streets. Immediately she wants to talk to her father but can't because he will know she climbed a tree so she comes up with an idea to have the royal kitemaker build a kite for her to fly over the city with. By doing this she will send a message to her father-she wouldn't come down until the city was as beautiful as the palace or the palace was as run-down as the city. The emperor immediately says that he will rebuild the city but his councilors do not agree with him so they try to shoot the kite down. The kitemaker was holding the kite and saw them so he jumped off the tower and the two of them disappeared for many years. The emperor still tried to rebuild the city and a war broke out because the noblemen were greedy and didn't want to change the city. One day a samurai leaves the kingdom because he believes that the little girl is still alive and he finds her and tells her that her father has tried to change the city but he is too old now. Shibumi tries to go back with him but the palace is surrounded so she goes back and builds a giant kite so that she can enter the way she left. In the end, her father is killed in combat and Shibumi takes over.
I loved this story and I was completely surprised that it was written by Mercer Mayer. He is one of my favorite illustrators and I love his Little Critter stories but I had no idea that he wrote other stories (which sounds very naive but I only knew him for these books). The story is amazing and I think it does a great job of discussing contrasts in SES in a society and how people can change these differences and not just accept them. While the story is great, the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. They are different from his other books but the colors are still very vibrant and the scenes he creates are amazing.