WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON
is now in paperback and the sequel,
STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY, is out!
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a truly magical book. I don't think that, in the fourteen years I have worked as a children's bookseller and the 16 years I have been a mother buying books for her children, (OK - who am I kidding?? I've been buying them for myself! I have no intentions of ever letting any of the books on my shelf leave this house when my kids do!) I have ever seen such a magnificently illustrated, beautiful gem of a book hit the shelves. Yes, I have seen and purchased more than a few collections of folk and fairy tales and myths with gorgeous illustrations, and yes, The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech, with illuminations by David Diaz is remarkable, but never have I seen a book with one story, one author and one illustrator like this.
Before I delve into the tale of Minli and her quest, I'd like to share the interesting things I have learned about Grace Lin. She is the author and illustrator of many vibrant picture books, as well as handful of books written by other children's book authors. For insight into the life of an artist and writer, her blog gracenotes is fascinating. I especially like her posts titled, on my desk which consists of a picture of Grace's workspace and whatever she is working on at the moment. I have included pictures of two paintings in progress from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Sometimes there's a painting or drawing in progress, sometimes it's paper flowers she is making for her book launch or even a cupcake shaped cookie jar. Also worth checking out is fortune cookie friday. In addition to all this, Grace is also involved in several charitable activities, including many she has started on her own. Small Graces: A Painting a Month for the FCB is one of them. There is a photo of one of Grace's paintings at the end of this review. The Foundation for Children's Books is a non-profit organization that committed to fulfilling their goal of helping teachers, librarians and parents select and use quality children's literature in order to instill in children the joy of reading as a prerequisite for literacy and lifelong learning. Every month Grace creates a 5x5 painting illustrating a Chinese Proverb that she auctions off with all proceeds going to the FCB. Grace Lin is also involved in raising money for cancer research. In 2007 Grace Lin lost her husband, Robert Mercer, to cancer. Before his death, the two organized a fund raiser called Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure around a book that they co-wrote, titled Robert's Snow. For the fundraiser, Grace asked her children's book illustrator friends to paint wooden snowflakes to be auctioned off. They made almost $100,000 and the money was donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The event continues yearly and has raised over $250,000 since 2004 for sarcoma research. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is dedicated to Robert.
Here is the snowflake that Adam Rex contributed to the charity.
Grace Lin's other two novels for young adults, Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat are semi-autobiographical books that follow the character of Pacy, or Grace which is her American name, over the course of a year. In the first book, Pacy learns that the Year of the Dog is a time when a person "finds herself." In the sequel, Pacy learns that the Year of the Rat is a time of changes and she struggles to cope with the changes that shake up her life. With Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Lin says in her author's note that her inspiration were the Chinese folk and fairy tales she read as a child as well as a trip she took to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Lin also lists several of the texts she used as resources for resources, some of which are still in print. Within the forty-nine chapters of Lin's book are sixteen stories told by various characters throughout the story. The storytelling tradition is a rich one in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, so rich that it inspires the heroine of the story, young Minli, to pack up her few belongings to go on an epic journey to find the Old Man of the Moon, Guardian of the Book of Fortune, who knows the answers to all of life's questions, and ask him how to bring fortune to her impoverished home at the foot of the Fruitless Mountain. Below is a photo from on my desk monday of the village at the foot of the Fruitless Mountain as well as sketches and photos used to help create the painting.
Sometimes the stories told to Minli as she travels closer to the Never-Ending Mountain where the Old Man of the Moon resides are instructive and emotionally revealing. Sometimes they further the story with explanations for things that seem threatening or odd, like the Green Tiger or the Paper of Happiness. But, in the most satisfying way, the stories that seem ancient and arcane have a way of uniting stories, characters and fortunes by the end of the book, much in the same way the red threads that the Old Man of the Moon tie together (at the ankles) everyone who meets, the threads shorten as each person grows older, drawing together those who are destined to meet and intertwine their lives. One of my favorite illustrations in the book is when Minli reaches the top of the Never-Ending Mountain and is taken to the Old Man of the Moon, who is sitting amongst his thousands of red threads, by a talking white rabbit. Although I couldn't find that picture to add here, I do have the haunting painting of Minli walking the tenuous red thread bridge on her way to the top of the mountain.
I have not given away too many of the details of Minli's wonderful journey because I think that the wonder of it is best discovered on one's own. There are magical creatures, talking goldfish, flying (and not flying) dragons, peach-greedy monkeys and power greedy magistrates. There are also peasants and kings trying to right the wrongs of their ancestors or just trying to live life the best, happiest way they know how. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has many teachable moments but is never dogmatic or didactic and can be read on more than one level quite easily. The adventures that Minli has as she travels to the Never-Ending Mountain are equally enthralling, although the pace of the book is always measured and never rushed. There is a deep feeling of patience in the tone of Grace Lin's writing and this, along with a girl for a main character may keep some boys away from this book that is as beautiful and valuable as a dragon's pearl, "worth an emperor's entire fortune!" But, this shouldn't stop parents, teachers and other adults from reading this book out loud to children. I have no doubt it will be waiting in hundreds of classrooms this fall, ready to entertain and delight. And, for some lucky kids it will be waiting on nightstands as they snuggle in for a bedtime story.
An extra treat! A book plate that Grace Lin created, pairing one of her great paintings and Chinese Proverb that I especially love.