Saturday, August 1, 2009
Review of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
In the best of fairy tale traditions, young Minli leaves her poverty-stricken parents and luckless village in search of the Old Man in the Moon, so that she can ask him how to change the fortune of her family. Her storytelling father has filled her imagination with wondrous tales all her life, and her mother is very right when she thinks that Minli might believe in them. Taking the advice of a talking goldfish, Minli begins a journey during which she meets a sweet, non-flying dragon, a wise king, irrepressible twins, a truly rotten tiger, and finally the Old Man in the Moon. The question she asks him isn't the one she started out with, but it doesn't matter - the experiences Minli has had have not only brought her a new appreciation and gratefulness for her life but have also brought about an amazing change in her formerly "fruitless" valley.
This is a flawless little gem of a book, written in a straightforward, warm tone that always has a hint of a smile in it. Minli's adventures are enhanced by the little stories told by various characters throughout the book, stories that sound like ancient fables but that are all connected not only to each other but to Minli's journey. There is a lovely sense of satisfaction as one link after another is connected, until the entire shape of the book is revealed like a Chinese knot - seemingly complicated yet pleasing and harmonious.
The physical book is extremely pleasing as well, with a compact size and creamy, sturdy pages. The font changes to a slightly more fanciful, curly font whenever a story is being told, a subtle way of alerting the reader that the narrative is being briefly interrupted, and small and lovely drawings (or maybe woodcuts?) decorate the beginning of each chapter while large, full-color paintings that look like Chinese tapestries are sprinkled throughout the book. That Grace Lin not only possesses such a graceful writing style but also abundant artistic talent is quite awe-inspiring.
The friendly and almost humble tone of this story will appeal to many children, who will be sucked in early on by the talking goldfish and the dragon. That the story and setting was inspired by China and its legends and folktales is clear and makes this tale stand out among the many fantasies involving quests and journeys. Minli and the other characters become a bit wiser (or not, as in the case of the Magistrate) by the end of the tale, but the lessons are not hammered home. Lin's deft touch keeps the tone light and the focus on a terrific read. Absolutely a Newbery contender, in my opinion.
Highly recommended for grades 3 and up.