Book Reviews: Juvenile Fantasy

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Bibliography:

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. 2009. New York. Little, Brown and Company.
ISBN: 9780316114271.

Plot:

Minli lives at the foot of Fruitless Mountain, and toils all day in the mud as her family tries to coax enough rice to grow in order to survive. In this Newbery Honor book, Grace Lin tells the story of the plight of a poor Chinese family and their will to survive. Minli’s father makes life bearable with his ancient stories of fantastical characters that twine together hope and future prosperity. Minli’s mother doesn’t agree that filling the young girl’s mind with such stories is a good thing, and wishes that he would be more down-to-earth. Eventually, in order to better her family’s fortune, Minli sets off on an adventure and makes new friends who help her achieve her goal of finding happiness.

Critical Analysis:

Grace Lin chooses a unique style in composing this fantasy. Drawing on the stories she has heard from her family and tales from Chinese folklore, she crafts a beautiful story of hope. Fantastical creatures such as talking gold fish, an earth-bound dragon, and greedy monkeys will appeal to young readers. The work’s alternating style between Minli’s actual adventure and the stories she is told is beautifully portrayed with the use of varying font selection and art. The full color art is inspired by the ancient Asian art of woodblock and screen prints which provides authentic flavor to the Chinese tales.

Lin adapted the tales of old to fit the characters in the story, and the characters in each tale share some familiar faces, as well. This keeps the story moving and underscores the belief that Minli exhibits that these tales are actually real and achievable. Children will be drawn to Minli’s optimistic and quick thinking spirit. “Minli was not brown and dull like the rest of the village. She had glossy black hair with pink cheeks, shining eyes always eager for adventure, and a fast smile that flashed from her face. When people saw her…they thought her name, which meant quick thinking, suited her well.” Adults will relate to the mother as she sighs, reflecting that her quick thinking often was accompanied by quick acting.

Minli’s constant begging for stories and the conflict arising between the parents’ point of view provide the drama that drives Minli to search for a better way of life. Her devotion to her parents and ultimate sacrifices she makes to help them is endearing. This book is a great bedtime story that will ensure the readers sweet dreams of hope and the ability to better one’s life.

Awards:

Newbery Honor Book
Parents’ Choice Gold Award
Library School Journal: Top 100 Children’s Novels

Reviews:

To change her family’s fortunes, a poor Chinese girl embarks on a fantastical quest to discover she already has everything she needs to be happy. Minli and her parents live in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain, where they toil endlessly. Bitter and resentful, Minli’s mother complains when her husband fills Minli’s imagination with enchanting tales of Never-Ending Mountain and the Old Man of the Moon. “Eager for adventure,” Minli sets out alone seeking advice from the Old Man of the Moon. En route she befriends a dragon who joins her quest. Together they encounter a talking goldfish, a boy with a buffalo, a king, a fierce green tiger and laughing twins before scaling Never-Ending Mountain. 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.  Kirkus Book Review

As Grace Lin explains in her Author’s Note to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, some of the books she read at eleven were dozens upon dozens of Chinese folktale and fairytale stories. With her customary cleverness Lin has now taken the essence of those tales and woven them into a quest novel that is a mix of contemporary smart girl pizzazz and the feel of a classic that your parents were read as children. If there’s any author out there today with the potential of being remembered and beloved 100 years down the line, Grace Lin has my vote. School Library Journal

Connections:

Read this along with a study of folklore and discuss the difference between folk tales and fantasy. How is this book a fantasy book, instead of a folk tale?

Encourage students to take stories their families have told them over the years and write an adventure or fantasy story using the bones of those stories.

In Language Arts writing class, have the students comment on the style and composition of this book. How does the changing of the font and insertion of color pictures add to the book’s appeal?