Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Although this book is pretty thick (nearly 300 pages), it's a very easy and swift read. The font is reasonably large and the book contains many full-page illustrations, and since the story is reasonably simple and easy to read, I'd recommend this for younger readers of chapter books.

Minli is a young girl growing up in a poor rice farming village at the foot of Fruitless Mountain. Everything they possess is hard-earned, but although they will never be rich, they have just barely achieved sufficiency. Minli's father enriches her life with folktales, which inspire her to wonder. But folktales can't always answer her questions, so she often hears "You'll have to ask the Old Man of the Moon".

One day, a man selling goldfish comes through the village. Minli, hoping to improve her family's fortune and bring something beautiful into their home, is the only one in the village to purchase one. Her father is understanding, but her mother despairs at having another mouth to feed from their meager portion of rice. But the goldfish is, indeed special. It speaks to Minli and tells her that it has explored all of the rivers in China, with the exception of the one in her village. In exchange for setting him free, he tells her how to begin a journey to Endless Mountain to find the Old Man of the Moon.

Thus begins Minli's long journey. This tale is in many ways like a Grimm's seeking-one's-fortune tale where kindness and virtue and rewarded, and greed and vice are punished. She meets many interesting companions (including the dragon depicted on the front cover), and throughout Minli's story are dispersed short tales that explain the history of a landscape or village or creature. These tales are (very) loosely based in the Chinese folk tales that Grace Lin read as a girl.

It's an enchanting story for lovers of folk tales of all kinds, not too long, and very accessible.

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