When Grandpa, prompted by a plain little gray bird, begins to tell his grandchildren, Elizabeth and Jonathan, about the emperor's nightingale, his back yard is transformed into the emperor of China's palace, garden and forest, and the three of them become characters in this humorous and moving story. At the end of the emperor's forest, where the emperor has never been, is a deep blue sea where fishermen come with their nets to feed their families and to hear the sweet music of the nightingale. The emperor is outraged to learn that such a treasure exists in his own forest, and yet he has not seen it. He orders his chief courtier to find the nightingale and bring it to him. When the nightingale arrives, the emperor has it put in a golden cage where it will sing to him every day. Then, one day, the emperor of Japan sends the emperor of China a beautifully jeweled mechanical bird, which quickly wins the emperor's admiration. The nightingale, homesick for its friends and family in the forest, escapes, and the emperor learns some important lessons about friendship, loyalty, freedom, and the special beauty found only in nature.