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?
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.
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♥ AUTHOR CHAT WITH GRACE LIN ♥
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!
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.
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.
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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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!
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! 🙂 🙂 🙂
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♥ ♥ BRAVO, GRACE, AND CONGRATULATIONS ON ALL THE ACCOLADES !!! ♥ ♥
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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
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♥ ENCORE! ♥
♥ 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:
- Fuse 8
- Librarian’s Quest
- Abby the Librarian
- Auld School Librarian
- Cleveland Plain Dealer
- For Those About to Mock
♥ STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY BLOG TOUR
- Monday, Oct. 1: Bookie Woogie
- Tuesday, Oct. 2: The Enchanted Inkpot
- Wednesday, Oct. 3: Jama’s Alphabet Soup
- Thursday, Oct. 4: Pragmatic Mom
- Friday, Oct. 5: Charlotte’s Library
- Tuesday, Oct. 9: Abby the Librarian
♥ Click here for information about GRACE’S MINI BOOK TOUR
♥ Other Grace Lin posts at Alphabet Soup:
- 2008 Interview (includes cupcake recipe!)
- Soup of the Day: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
- Soup of the Day: Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same
- Soup of the Day: Thanking the Moon
- Soup of the Day: Dumpling Days
*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.