Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
In her third novel for young readers, the inimitable Grace Lin departs from the autobiographical inspiration of Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat to bring us an amazing adventure that combines Chinese folktales with a fantastic journey of heroism, friendship, and love. The narrative of young Minli and her parents, who work hard every day at the base of “Fruitless Mountain” yet are still very poor, is interspersed with the Chinese folktales her father tells to make their days more bearable and the author’s gorgeous color illustrations, reminiscent of Chinese enameled cloisonné.
One day, a talking goldfish bought from a traveling salesman inspires the quick-thinking Minli to believe she can change her fortune. That evening, the young girl sets off before her parents return from toiling in the rice paddy. In her quest, often reminding readers of The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, Minli visits forbidden cities and enchanted villages. She befriends a dragon who becomes her traveling companion and a young orphan with a mysterious friend. She meets monkeys, a tiger, another talking fish, a king, characters derived from folktales, and various immortals, nearly all of whom share more wonderful stories with her.
All the while, of course, Minli thinks of her parents worrying for her at home in their impoverished surroundings, and she cannot wait to return, hoping that she will have changed the family’s fortune for the better. Meanwhile, her parents embark on another kind of journey: to rediscover the value in all that they do have, all the while longing for their beloved daughter’s safe return.
The story is sweet without being overly sentimental, smart without being preachy, exciting without sensationalism. Everyone learns important lessons about friendship, strength, honor, courage, and love in this heartwarming and engaging book that will surely become a classic. Grace Lin has brought the magic of Chinese fairytales to life for children (and adults) of any background and enhanced it with the addition of a strong, smart, and loyal heroine. This book of one large story and many small ones, filled with engaging illustrations and nine full color plates (so rare in middle-reader chapter books) will be both devoured by young readers and enjoyed by younger children, along with their parents, when read aloud.