Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

  • Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  • Author: Grace Lin
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Year Published: 2009
  • ISBN: 0521021960
  • List Price: $17.00
  • Page Count: 288
  • Age Range: 8-12
  • Genre: fantasy/mythology
  • Award(s): Newbery Honor Book; more here.

Author information: Grace Lin has authored and illustrated books for a wide age range of children. Her website includes biographical information, contact information, and tour and event dates. It also includes a link to her blog, which focuses on activities and events that are releavnt to Lin’s life and work, such as a recent play production of one of her books and her advocacy for diversity in children’s books. Her webpage also includes links to all of her titles, as well as supplementary materials for parents and teachers such as craft ideas, discussion questions, and lesson suggestions.

Reviews: School Library Journal and Booklist both gave this title starred reviews. Both reviews comment upon the beauty of the illustrations as well as the use of Chinese folklore to further the plot and add texture and depth to Minli’s world. Booklist and SLJ agree that Minli is resourceful, smart., and an engaging protagonist, and that readers will be rooting for her. In regards to the novel as a whole, Booklist had this to say: “Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude”.

Readers annotation: Minli wants to change her fortune, but will the Old Man of the Moon tell her how?

Summary: Minli is a young girl who lives in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain and works the fields with her parents. Her family is poor, and her mother often laments their lot in life, while her father tells her fantastic stories about dragons and adventures. Minli decides to change her family’s fortunes, and so she goes off in search of the Old Man of the Moon to ask him how to do so. On the way, she befriends a dragon, meets a prince, and spends time with a family that seems to have discovered the secret of happiness. When she gets the the Old Man of the Moon, he tells her she may only ask one question, so she sacrifices her answer about how to change her fortune in order to ask him why her dragon friend can’t fly. This decision turns out to answer her own question as well; when the dragon flies to the Fruitless Mountain, it becomes bountiful and her family prospers. Although her family becomes financially rich, Minli’s adventures taught them all that happiness with loved ones is the most important treasure of all.

Evaluation: This is an utterly charming book. Lin weaves the narrative of Minli and her family with short fables and folktales that turn out to be significant to Minli’s adventure, layering different types of storytelling and myths into one cohesive story. The use of different colors to differentiate between Minli’s story and the folktales is eye-catching and makes the narrative easy to follow and keeps the reader aware of what part of the book she is currently reading. Minli is an enjoyable protagonist and the reader wants her to succeed in her quest, and secondary characters, like the father and the dragon, are nice complements to Minli’s story. Minli’s mother is one of the more interesting secondary characters due to her harshness at the beginning of the novel and her transformation as she realizes what is truly important to her, which is her family. Lin presents a good moral message as well as uses themes like friendship, family, and the meaning of happiness throughout the novel, which gives the reader much to think about. The ending, which provides happiness for all of the characters, is welcome and sure to put a smile on any reader’s face. The artwork is stunning and richly detailed, and provides a wonderful complement to this delightful book.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 4/5  The use of storytelling within the greater narrative works well and enriches the novel as a whole. The characters are sympathetic and the happy ending is well-deserved.
  • Popularity: 4/5 Readers will enjoy the miniature stories within Minli’s tale, which break up the narrative into easily digestible pieces and factor into Minli’s story later on. The fantasy and mythology aspects of the novel will appeal to many readers, especially as it stems from a tradition (Chinese) that isn’t as prevalent in writing for this age group.
  • Appeal factors: mythology and folklore, dragons, families, happy endings, stories within stories.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Readers who want to delve deeper into stories told against a mythological backdrop may enjoy Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. This series follows Percy, a modern day kid, who discovers that not only are Greek gods real, but that one of them is his father.
  2. For readers who enjoyed Lin’s fantastic story of Minli uses Chinese folklore as a backdrop, her book Starry River of the Sky would be a good fit. Like Mountain, Starry River follows a young protagonist and interweaves Chinese myths into the main narrative.

Book talk ideas: One way to approach this book talk would be to read one of the folklore stories out loud to potential readers, to give them an idea of how the book works. After doing that, tell readers that this novel follows Minli’s journey to change her destiny, and that stories like the one they just heard pepper the novel and influence Minli’s destiny. Also, possibly ask the audience if any of them have read other popular mythology/folklore stories, such as the Percy Jackson series, and suggest that this is a similar type of book but that it focuses on a different folkloric tradition: that of China rather than the more familiar Greek.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. Why does the author choose to tell stories within the main narrative? What effect does this have?
  2. Describe Minli’s relationship with her parents? Why is her relationship with her father so different from the one she has with her mother?
  3. What is the most important lesson that Minli learns on her journey?

Reason for reading: I wanted to diversifying the types of books I was reading for this project, and try to include other cultures whenever possible. I found this title on a list of Newbery books (possibly on Goodreads, but I don’t remember for certain) and was intrigued by reading a book with roots in Chinese folklore, and this book did not disappoint. Before requesting it from the library, I really knew nothing about the plot other than what I gleaned from the cover, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Additional information: Grace Lin has been very active in the We Need Diverse Books campaign. This campaign (which just occurred last week, May 1-3, 2014) was a social media call to action in support of diversity in children’s literature. It asked for people to photograph themselves with a sign expressing the importance of diversity in children’s books and then upload it to Twitter, followed by Twitter chat and push to encourage diversity in libraries and bookstores. Since this is a very recent campaign, I look forward to learning more about it and its impact over the coming months.

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