For a long time, I’ve wished there was an series of books that featured Asian folktales, sort of how the Percy Jackson stories make Greek mythology relevant to kids, or even how the Harry Potter books draw on common themes for an epic hero’s journey. And I can’t believe I haven’t yet written about Grace Lin’s chapter book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little Brother and I just finished reading Lin’s follow up, Starry River of the Sky. While it’s not a sequel per se, it has enough commonality and interwoven threads that I’m seeing the potential (hint, hint) for a series of chapter books that can make Chinese folk tales come to life for modern American kids.
But back to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The tale begins with a girl named Minli, who lives in the dusty Valley of Fruitless Mountain. She lives a simple life with her work-worn parents. Ba is a fanciful storyteller who regales Minli with tales of dragons, Magistrate Tigers and The Old Man of the Moon — who holds all of the answers to life’s questions. Ma is the weary, realistic one, clucking at her husband for filling their daughter’s head with foolishness. Minli, tired of her family’s fruitless labor, decides to take a chance and spends one of her precious two coins saved in a rice bowl to buy a lucky goldfish from a traveling salesman. After her mother chastises her for spending half of her money on the pet, Minli decides to runaway in search of The Old Man of the Moon. Thus begins a journey that reminds me of The Wizard of Oz or Homer’s Odyssey, only with Chinese folklore mixed in.
While Minli is a character invented by Lin, I didn’t realize until I read Starry River of the Sky how many of the side-stories are based in traditional Chinese tales. The physical book itself is a beauty, with its illustrations and also in that the typography changes to a more flowery old-fashioned font when one of the characters tells a story drawn from the canon of mythology.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has also been adapted into a live musical. Little Brother and I caught a performance last fall at the Bay Area Children’s Theater in Berkeley, which has now been nominated for 10 Theatre Bay Area Awards. It was the simplest presentation, with only a dozen or so actors each playing multiple parts, but Little Brother and I were enthralled.
Check back soon for my review of Grace Lin’s Starry River of the Sky and find out how the two books are tied together…
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