"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Chinese Folktales and Imagination Blend Together in Where The Mountain Meets The Moon

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-03863-8

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is the story of a young girl named Minli.  Minli and her parents live in the poor village of Fruitless Mountain.  Their tireless work, day after day, provides them with only the smallest amount of food.  Ma is dissatisfied with the life they have and would love nothing more than a change in fortune.  Inspired by Ba's exciting stories, Minli decides to leave home and seek out the Old Man of the Moon, in the hopes that he will tell her how to change her family's fortune.

Thus begins a long and dangerous journey.  Along the way, Minli befriends a lonely dragon, and he becomes her constant companion, as he, too would like to ask a question of the Old Man of the Moon.  Together, they outsmart some monkeys, search for the Guardian of the City of Bright Moonlight and a borrowed line, encounter an evil green tiger, and listen to a wealth of old stories.  They also make many new friends who are more than happy to assist Minli and Dragon in whatever way they can.

Meanwhile, Ma and Ba are worried sick about their precious daughter and fear they may never see her again.  Will Minli succeed in finding the Old Man of the Moon?  And if so, will he be willing to help her?  The ending of this exciting tale may surprise you.   

Lin's novel is both enchanting and compelling.  Minli is a strong female character who decides to take fate into her own hands.  She is determined, courageous, and kind.  In short, she has all of the qualities that any young girl might aspire to have.  I think this is particularly important because girls in Asian Pacific American literature have been portrayed as shy, obedient, and subservient in the past.  It is refreshing to read a story where the character breaks free of those stereotypes.  Minli's quest will likely fascinate all young readers, but her character will have just as a profound effect on the perception of Asian Pacific American girls.

Chinese folklore, both traditional and newly imagined by Lin, plays an essential role in this novel. Throughout the book, Minli is surrounded by these stories.  The stories Ba tells her in the evenings are the catalyst for her journey.  Throughout her travels, each character she meets has another story to share.  These stories further her knowledge and help guide her in making important decisions.  For example, The Unknown Part of the Story of the Old Man of the Moon tells both Minli and the King of the City of Bright Moonlight that the paper passed down to him from his predecessors is in all likeliness the borrowed line.  Minli uses that knowledge when she arrives at Never-Ending Mountain to create a kite from the valuable paper (along with the red string).  The Old Man of the Moon will surely take notice of her when he sees that she has returned a paper from the Book of Fortune to him.  It is important to note that at the end of her novel, Lin shares which aspects of the book were based on real Chinese folktales and which parts she created herself.

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a culturally authentic novel.  The characters have Chinese names, the foods they eat are traditional Chinese foods, and the clothes they wear are bright in color and made of silk.  The color red is important in the Chinese culture, and the twins, Da-A-Fu, are described as wearing red.  Dragons are symbolic in Chinese culture, and there are many dragons in this story (both real and as part of the stories).  The people who encounter Minli's friend, Dragon, are awed by him.  Likewise, goldfish are considered symbols of luck and good fortune, and their appearance in the novel marks considerable change for the characters.   

It would be remiss not to mention Lin's beautiful artwork.  Her full color paintings are vibrant and add another layer to this already engaging story.  They help the reader to more completely visualize the characters and events. 

This is the first title by Grace Lin that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading more of her work.  She is a noteworthy author from a diverse cultural group that is poorly underrepresented in American children's literature today, and I look forward to sharing her books with my students.    

2010 Newbery Honor Book

2010 CCBC Choices List

2013 Nutmeg Award Nominee

From BOOKLIST - "With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin's own full-color drawings open each chapter."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "The author's writing is elegant, and her full-color illustrations are stunning. Minli's determination to help her family, as well as the grief her parents feel at her absence, is compelling and thoroughly human."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Lin deftly incorporates elements from Chinese folk- and fairy tales to create stories within the main story and provide context for Minli's quest. With her "lively and impulsive spirit," Minli emerges a stalwart female role model who learns the importance of family, friendship and faith during her amazing journey. Richly hued illustrations reinforce the Chinese folk theme."

Grace Lin has several wonderful activities that go along with the novel on her website.  Check them out by clicking on this link. Grace Lin's Website  

Share this video of Lin being interviewed about her novel by some children.

If your students enjoyed Lin's writing, have them choose another of her books to read.  Her other middle grade novels include:
  • Lin, Grace. Starry River of the Sky. ISBN 978-0316125970
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. ISBN 978-0316060028
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Rat. ISBN 978-0316033619
  • Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. ISBN 978-0316125895  

Have your students write about what one question they would ask the Old Man of the Moon if they had the opportunity and why.

Ask your students to think about which character in the novel they are most like.  Have them write why they are similar to this character and list attributes that they both share.

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