blog tour stop #3: chatting with grace lin about starry river of the sky

I’m so pleased and excited to welcome back Newbery Honor award-winning author/illustrator Grace Lin to Alphabet Soup and to congratulate her on the publication this week of Starry River of the Sky (Little, Brown, 2012)!

When I featured Where the Mountain Meets the Moon back in 2009, I gave it my highest five spoon rating and hoped it would get a Newbery nod. Her hybrid folklore fantasy (with gorgeous full-color illustrations) felt like a modern classic. How could she possibly top herself?

Three legged-toad

In Starry River of the Sky, Grace once again creates a wondrous tapestry of  Chinese folklore seamlessly interwoven within the main narrative. Lyrical prose, mystery, adventure, suspense, magic, an odd cast of characters, humor and delightful surprises characterize this enchanting companion novel about a young runaway who is “taught by kindness” and finds peace through empathy and forgiveness.

Angry, stranded Rendi begrudgingly works as an innkeeper’s chore boy in the remote Village of Clear Sky. He’s baffled and annoyed by its peculiar, unhappy residents and is troubled by the missing moon and the sky’s nightly moans.

When the mysterious Madame Chang arrives with the gift of storytelling, fortunes begin to change. She challenges Rendi to reciprocate with stories of his own, which gradually reveal who he really is and why he ran away. As he learns to trust the other villagers, Rendi realizes the stories hold answers to his many questions about how to save the dying village and resolve his own familial conflict.

“Master Chao seemed not to notice and brought Peiyi in front of him. He gently pushed her tangled hair from her cherry-blossom-pink face. She stood as still as a carved statue, with only her eyes moving, as her father dipped his finger into the wine mixture and carefully wrote ‘wang’, a symbol of power, with it on her forehead. Rendi watched from the doorway, and a strange, jealous anger filled him.” (Chapter 2)

It’s an emotional journey of self discovery for Rendi, but all are transformed by the stories they hear and tell, as new friendships are forged, and moon, mountain, balance and harmony are restored.

The simply told stories are laced with profound universal truths. They circle back and build upon each other, suggesting the interrelationship of all things, adding rich layers of cultural and historical context. Starry River of the Sky is exquisitely crafted, by its own example a paean to the power of story — its ability to enlighten, heal, inspire, unite, and reconcile.

Wood block-inspired drawings head each chapter.

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♥ AUTHOR CHAT WITH GRACE LIN ♥

Grace’s fantasy portrait by Vigor Photo Studio

AS: Was this book easier or harder to write than Where the Mountain Meets the Moon? Was it daunting trying to create a companion novel for a book that had won a Newbery Honor?

Grace: Hmm, they were both difficult for different reasons. However, I’d say Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was more emotionally difficult, while Starry River of the Sky was more cerebrally difficult. They were both very consuming; I felt like while I was writing both of them I was perpetually dazed.

It was daunting writing the companion for a book that won a Newbery Honor. I knew there’d be higher expectations from the readers, reviewers and myself. But I had to just keep telling myself it was much better to fail than to not try!

Grace’s notes for SROTS

AS: I am in total awe of your mad plotting skills! The seamless interweaving of folk and fairy tales with central narrative is absolutely brilliant. Did you have an elaborate outline which connected all the story threads before you even started writing?

Grace: Aww, thanks! For Starry River, I did have a rough outline/summary but nothing too elaborate. A lot of the story connections happened organically.

AS: Which character in the book do you most closely identify with? Did you have anyone specific in mind when developing Rendi’s character?

Grace: Hmm, well, Rendi is the first boy character I’ve ever written so I leaned quite a bit on my husband. A lot of his personality is in Rendi. I think the character I most identified with would probably be Peiyi, though I have a great deal of empathy for Rendi.

Giant Toad process photos

AS: One of the central themes of Starry River is the transformative power of storytelling. Madame Chang says, “when people tell stories, they share things about themselves.” As a master storyteller yourself, what do you think this novel reveals about you as a person, a writer, an artist?

Grace: I’m flattered that you think I’m a master storyteller! This is a hard question to answer as I’m not sure what the story reveals to the reader; they are free to presume what they wish! However, writing this book did reveal to me that no matter what I write about — whether it be about a childhood trip to Taiwan or about a missing moon — the books always become deeply personal.

These books, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, have been a kind of therapy for me, a way to process and put to rest the emotions I had during Robert’s, my first husband’s, illness and passing. As many people know, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was my way of sharing what his death taught me.

Starry River speaks a lot to the emotions I felt during his illness, the anger and resentment I had knowing that we would never grow old together; and how I came to peace with it.

Finished art for “Sunset,” first full-page illustration in the book

AS: What do you hope young readers will take away from this novel?

Grace: First and foremost, I hope they take away an exciting adventure that they love. And maybe, afterwards, I hope the stories make them think and perhaps even help them lead more peaceful and harmonious lives.

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Spot illos frame each story within the story.
“Magistrate Tiger carefully placed the bowl on the shelf behind him and then stroked the ‘gang’ gently.” (Chapter 17)
Moon Cakes via GW & Glenn

Starry River of the Sky is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and has already earned a veritable galaxy of well deserved *starred* reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Horn Book, Kirkus, and Booklist.

Young readers will love embarking upon this new adventure as they are instantly drawn into the mystery of Rendi’s past. They’ll be intrigued by the constant arguing between Master Chao the innkeeper and his neighbor Widow Yan, the clash between Rendi and Peiyi the innkeeper’s daughter, strange Mr. Shan and his pet toad, the captivating and regal Madame Chang, oodles of garden snails, a white tiger, magical fireflies and lanterns, dancing fish, a vast Stone Pancake, deep fried sesame balls and stinky tofu!

“The joke about fermented tofu was that the more disgusting it smelled, the more delicious it was.” (Chapter 7)

They’ll be charmed by the plot twists, and feel a deep sense of satisfaction to see how everything ties together beautifully by story’s end. Grace’s absolutely stunning illustrations add to the timeless feel of this wholly original, brilliantly crafted work. Because she’s totally outdone herself yet again, I give Starry River of the Sky my highest five spoon rating plus three extra golden ladles!:):):)

Love the 5-foot long chopsticks!

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♥ ♥ BRAVO, GRACE, AND CONGRATULATIONS ON ALL THE ACCOLADES !!! ♥ ♥

Today’s Special: Star Flower Soup (seasoned with peace, harmony, balance, forgiveness, acceptance and empathy)

* * *

STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY
written and illustrated by Grace Lin
published by Little, Brown BFYR, October 2012
Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction for ages 8-12, 304 pp.
* Includes Author’s Note and Resources
**Cool themes: Chinese folklore, fairytales, moon, storytelling, fantasy, family, friendship, mythology
***Companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

* * *

♥ ENCORE! ♥

Chinese Coin Cookies via Of Wedding Cakes, Sweets & More

♥ Check out this “Behind Starry River of the Sky” video:

♥ For more about her books, visit Grace Lin’s Official Website. Don’t miss the Starry River Activities Page, where you can learn how to make a Toad Lantern and download an Event Kit so you can have your own party!

♥ Read the starred reviews here.

♥ Click over to Grace’s blog to enjoy all the goodies from yesterday’s Virtual Launch Party. Scroll through the posts for fun activities (a recipe for Mooncakes!), videos, and information about how you can win a handpainted special edition Pocket Pacy or even have Grace paint your portrait! These giveaways run through the month of October and November.

Click here for the Starry River of the Sky Educator Guide.

♥ Other online reviews:

♥ STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY BLOG TOUR

Click here for information about GRACE’S MINI BOOK TOUR

♥ Other Grace Lin posts at Alphabet Soup:

“And without further words, Magistrate Tiger began to strum the qin. As his familiar chords rang through the air, the fish began to jump out of the water, expecting the rice that had always been there before. They leaped again and again, as if dancing to the music. They shimmered in the sunlight, soaring and diving like cascades of orange and gold rainbows.” (Chapter 13)

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*Spreads from Starry River of the Sky reproduced with permission of the publisher, copyright © 2012 Grace Lin, published by Little, Brown BFYR. All rights reserved.

**Stinky Tofu via Taiwan Food Culture

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

32 thoughts on “blog tour stop #3: chatting with grace lin about starry river of the sky

  1. If I was going to break my “online silence” it would be for this interview! Gracefully done, beautiful to look at, and the power of storytelling–yours and Grace’s–has sent me flying to the library’s hold list for this book and Mountains. Thanks for making me believe there are still beautiful, wonderful books being produced by people who care deeply.

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    1. She’s back!! We sure missed you:).

      Both of these folktale fantasies, with their beautiful illustrations remniscent of the old fashioned illustrated classics, are testament to the irreplaceable value of print books. Yes, you can read these novels in e-format, but it’s just not the same as holding the hardcover in your hands, turning the thick cream-colored pages and gazing at the gorgeous art while reading the stories.

      Aside from enjoying the stories as stories, I liked studying the architecture of these books — the adaptation and updating of ancient folktales with a modern spin is a dynamic and exciting process and a pleasure to witness with an author who does this as well as Grace does.

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  2. I had no idea that Ms. Lin wrote this book as part of her grieving process… what beautiful illustrations! I am sure that her books are an asset to every family’s book case. Great feature of Starry River of the Sky, Jama!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes from the greatest sorrow comes the greatest beauty. Another added dimension to Grace’s immense creative talent.:)

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  3. Treat after treat after treat here, with Grace’s wise words, stunning pictures, your warm regard, and then even an appearance from Candice in the comments! Thank you! Great way to start a day and big congratulations to Grace for what looks like a wonderful followup, and being undaunted by that challenge.

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  4. I love the title too — so beautifully dreamy, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Leslie. I envy your getting to read it for the first time.

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  5. I think this blog post, review and interview are the highlight of my day. When I first read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon I was captivated not only by the story itself but by the honor that was paid to the art of storytelling by the interwoven threads of folklore. To see what I loved about the first title continued in the companion, Starry River of the Sky, is a gift for readers. To experience the generational connection of story through Grace Lin’s books is a joy. Her artwork to me is a marvel. Thank you Grace and Jama for the story, illustrations, delightful insights and…of course…the food.

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    1. Wholly agree, Margie — a rare gift, a joy, and so inspiring to see new adaptations of ancient tales being made so fresh and accessible to today’s young readers in such an original way.

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  6. Three ladles as well as five spoons? Impressive!:-) Looks like a stunning book. I’m not surprised Ms. Lin went around in a daze while she was making it!

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    1. That was interesting to hear — and makes sense since she started writing with only a general outline, with the overall process being so organic — all those wheels turning in her head, constantly making connections, etc. Imagine the level of deep concentration:).

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    1. Yes — I’ve been a longtime fan too — I know of few others who can write across genres and do it so well — plus she illustrates!

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  7. I still fondly remember Ms. Lin’s The Seven Chinese Sisters, which MiniPlu ADORED when she was little. I still like it better than the original “Brothers” which inspired it.😀

    I look forward to reading “Starry River” – maybe I’ll put it on my Amazon wishlist for Christmas.:-) Congrats to the amazing author!

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    1. Oh, yes — love the Seven Chinese Sisters! Isn’t there a big bowl illustration in that one?

      Do put this book on your Wish List! Your girls are just the right age to enjoy it — would make a great family read aloud.:)

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