Grace Lin, author of the beloved Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat, returns with a wondrous story of happiness, family, and friendship. A fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a timeless adventure story in the classic tradition of The Wizard of Oz.
In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
First, it needs to be acknowledged that this is a Newberry Honor book and so that is USUALLY an indicator that it will be a pretty good read (this is not always the case.) Also, the reason I even picked this book up is simply because as I was flipping through it in Sam's Club, the beautiful color throughout the novel caught my eye. Here is what I am talking about:
I was unable to resist those brightly colored images, and boy did they add immensely to the book.
While I adored this book, it was very different - I find that in contemporary fiction, you can usually feel like you are the character and you are embarking on their journey with them. In this novel, I didn't feel that way but that didn't detract from how good the story still was. The main character, Minli, is endearing and as a reader I liked her from the beginning. She seemed wise well beyond her years, and showed maturity and independence. I felt like I was reading her story, not taking part of it with her...and that is unusual for me. But like I said, it didn't take away from the story at all.
As she travels along, she meets a cast of characters who teach her things, but also offer her "stories" that explain the origins of things, or how something came to be - this very much reminded me of Native American legends. Through these stories, Minli advances until she finally reached her destination. I did struggle figuring out what genre this book falls into, but the author says Chinese fantasy and folklore, which does suit it well!
What I love most about this book, is the overall lesson it teaches - the grass isn't always greener, fortunes aren't always better, and usually the things that make you the richest aren't those that can be bought. Good will usually prevail, evil does not. And as parents, every single thing we do leaves an impression on our children.
At the end of the book, the author describes how she became interested in Chinese fantasy/folklore and I found it interesting. Living in the United States as a child, she was the minority in her town and classroom and the only outlets for her to identify with her culture were translated books that "fell flat" with illustrations nothing like what is in this book. Because of that, Grace Lin decided to put out something that every child, but particularly Asian children could be interested enough in to make a connection with their heritage. And boy she does an amazing job with that.
Another cool aspect of this book is at the end - the author shows her initial sketches and how she turned them into the artwork in the book...pretty neat stuff!
I highly recommend this book, and think it is most appropriate for upper elementary/lower middle school age children. The lessons of course are applicable to ALL ages, but the cast of characters makes this a children's book.