Gorgeous photo of Grace by Alexandre Ferron.
Hooray hooray hooray!!
Today is official Pub Day for Grace Lin’s brand new middle grade novel, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little,Brown, 2009)!
As far as I’m concerned, any time Grace publishes a new book, it is cause for big celebration. I’m a huge fan of both her gorgeous picture books and her heartwarming novels about Pacy Lin, Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat. When I interviewed Grace last year, she had recently returned from visiting China and Taiwan, and she talked about how she hoped to incorporate some of the sights and sounds of her fascinating experiences in a new book.
The end result demonstrates Grace’s unending versatility as an author, and has all the makings of an enduring classic. Quite different from her first two novels, which were realistic, autobiographical stories with a contemporary setting, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a fascinating hybrid blending fantasy, fairytales, epic adventure, and Chinese folktales.
Lively, impulsive Minli, with “shining eyes always eager for adventure,” lives an impoverished existence with her parents in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain. She spends her days toiling in the muddy rice fields, and her nights listening to her father’s enchanting stories about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man in the Moon.
Tired of their poor, dreary existence, Minli’s mother often complains about their lot and chides her husband for filling Minli’s head with nonsense. But Minli believes her father’s stories, and one day, sets out on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man in the Moon, so she can ask him how to change their family’s fortune.
With the help of a talking goldfish, Minli travels to Never-Ending Mountain accompanied by a kind-hearted, flightless dragon. Many wondrous and sometimes dangerous adventures befall them — they encounter a water buffalo boy quite content with his simple life, greedy peach-eating monkeys, a benevolent King who offers Minli quite a meal (“pink shrimp dumplings, savory noodles and pork, dragon’s beard bean sprouts, emerald green chives, and a bowl of white jade tofu soup”), and a fierce Green Tiger who is outwitted by a pair of hawthorne berryish laughing twins (their adorableness is off the scale).
When she finally meets the Old Man in the Moon, Minli learns she is allowed only one question. Will she help the dragon, who has become her dear friend, or her family?
There are so many things to love about this book that it’s hard to name just a few:
♥ As a main character, Minli is “quick thinking” and “quick acting.” Young readers will embrace her independent, generous spirit, her genuine desire to help her family, willingness to brave the unknown, and her belief in the power of stories. The Old Man in the Moon tells Minli that everyone who meets are connected by a red thread. Grace has said, “To me, those red threads, those connections are the stories we share.” Each of the characters Minli meets has a story which adds to her store of wisdom.
♥ Lots of suspense and surprises keep the story moving at just the right pace. Chinese folktales are skillfully incorporated into the narrative, never stalling the action or feeling intrusive, as “stories within a story” can sometimes do. These tales provide a cultural and historical context that deepens and enriches our understanding of the characters and events, and adds a timeless flavor to the whole. The gentle, seamless interweaving of past illuminating present is simply brilliant.
♥ Fans of Grace’s other novels will find this book wholly accessible and a joy to read. The lyrical prose flows effortlessly and the words soon dissolve, as the reader is captivated by the magical places, creatures, and events that contribute to Minli’s coming-of-age. Who would not be enchanted by a Dragon’s Gate that is an entryway to the sky, or a feast of peaches (“everyone’s mouths were full of soft, sweet peach flesh and groans of delight”), or the Village of Moon Rain (“the trees were heavy with bright blossoms and as the wind blew through the branches golden flowers showered down like rain”), or the unforgettable scene when Minli sees the Inner City of Bright Moonlight for the first time:
And like a lid of a jewelry box, the door opened into a landscape of radiant colors. The bamboo, pine, and plum leaves seemed to shine in the sun as if carved from emeralds and the accents of the pink and red flowers were like nestled rubies. Steps away from her feet, Minli could see a patterned pathway made of water-worn pebbles. The central jade green lake mirrored the arching tiled roofs of the pavilions and the rough beauty of large weathered rock sculptures. A winding covered walkway lifted up from the cloudy water like a lotus flower. It could only be the Palace Garden.
Simply gorgeous language!
♥ Timeless lessons abound: being thankful for the riches and wealth one already has, the sweet rewards of friendship, the evils of greed and power, and the importance of family. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by its own example, demonstrates the significance, relevance, and immeasurable worth of stories, as they bind us together, each to each, generation to generation, cutting across time and space.
♥ The book is also physically beautiful; you must hold it in your hands to fully appreciate the thought and care that went into its design. I had read the ARC three times (loved it that much!), and just yesterday, saw the finished hardcover version for the first time. Yowza! The full color illos, rendered in gorgeous jewel tones, reminded me of pictures found in old fashioned classics like The Wizard of Oz. Definitely a rarity for middle grade novels.
Grace has counted among her influences traditional Chinese paintings, architecture, vases and ceramics, and the art of cloisonné. Chapter headings are in gold font, with charming two color drawings like the ones above, and throughout there are spot illos of blossoms, old coins, medallions, even peaches — little touches that will make young readers want to return to this gem again and again.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has already received a galaxy of starred reviews (Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus). It’s also included in Booklist’s Top Ten SF/Fantasy Books for Youth 2009, and is a 2009 Parents’ Choice Gold winner. I’m hoping it gets a Newbery nod, and I give it my highest Five Spoon rating!
Congratulations, Grace, and thank you for writing this beautiful book!
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
Wednesday, June 24th: Bildungsroman
Thursday, June 25th: Shelf Elf
Friday, June 26th: Paper Tigers
Saturday, June 27th: MotherReader
Sunday, June 28th: Charlotte’s Library
Monday, June 29th: Write for a Reader
Tuesday, June 30th: The Mommy Files
Wednesday, July 1st: Thrifty Minnesota Mama
Thursday, July 2nd: Creative Madness
Friday, July 3rd:Abby the Librarian
**Grace recently opened a new Cafe Press online store! Adorable t-shirts and stuff for kids and adults featuring art from WTMMTM and Dim Sum for Everyone.
*Spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2009 Grace Lin, published by Little, Brown. All rights reserved.