Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the mountain meets the moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0-316-11427-1

Plot Summary
A fanciful tale of a young girl from a poor village who goes on a quest to ask “the Old Man of the Moon” how to find fortune for her family. Along the way, she befriends a dragon, a Buffalo Boy, a king, a very happy family, and a couple of goldfish. In the end, she and her family find their fortune in each other but the girl’s quest and return home brings fortune to the entire village.

Critical Analysis
This is a wonderfully written fantasy that seamlessly weaves the old stories of Chinese and other Asian folktales into a new story of a family that learns to be content with what they have. Though this is not necessarily an example of Asian-American literature, it does give the reader a sense of the foundation upon which Asian-American literature is built. From this book, we learn that the Asian-American, specifically Chinese-American for this author, heritage is hard-working but poor rice farmers. These poor farmers worked in the mud and lived off what they farmed so they were “brown” and “dull” looking and ate mostly rice. Because of who Minli encounters in the story, we learn that other foods available were peaches, lychee nuts, tea, rice porridge, and tea-stained eggs. Kings dined on shrimp dumplings, noodles and pork, white jade tofu soup, an assortment of cakes, and other delicacies.

The story also gives insight into the beliefs of the culture. The Chinese regard jade to be as sought after as gold and believe that tigers are a fearsome creature to be feared. It is believed that everything is alive – the ground, bark from trees, even stones (though carving gives them more personality [page 145]). And though the culture is very tied to fate and fortune and destiny, the Story of the Goldfish Man tells us that even fates written in the Book of Fortune can be changed and therefore nothing is to be deemed impossible.

The font used to tell the Chinese folktales along with the illustrations that accompany the story also add to the authenticity of the culture in which the story is based. The full-color illustrations help to describe the setting and the characters – buildings, clothing, tools, etc. – and the folklore integrated throughout gives the history of the people. Ultimately, this is a touching story about a good and kind people look who out for one another either by providing advice, nursing the sick back to health, cutting off squares of their own clothes to make clothes for another, or just simply waiting patiently for one’s return. This is a beautiful use of the old traditions to create a new story.

Professional Reviews
From Andrew Medlar (Booklist, May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
Starred Review* In this enchanted and enchanting adventure, Minli, whose name means “quick thinking,” lives with her desperately poor parents at the confluence of Fruitless Mountain and the Jade River. While her mother worries and complains about their lot, her father brightens their evenings with storytelling. One day, after a goldfish salesman promises that his wares will bring good luck, Minli spends one of her only two coins in an effort to help her family. After her mother ridicules what she believes to be a foolish purchase, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon, who, it is told, may impart the true secret to good fortune. Along the way, she finds excitement, danger, humor, magic, and wisdom, and she befriends a flightless dragon, a talking fish, and other companions and helpmates in her quest. With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin’s own full-color drawings open each chapter. Grades 3-6

From Michael Jung (Children's Literature)
Best known as the award-winning author and illustrator of The Year of the Rat and The Year of the Dog, Grace Lin tries her hand at an original Chinese folktale in her new book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. All her life, young Minli has lived in the Valley of the Fruitless Mountain, a valley her storytelling father tells her is barren because the mountain above it is the broken heart of the Jade Dragon who longs to be reunited with her children. When her father tells her about the Old Man of the Moon and his ability to answer any question, however, Minli sets out to find the Old Man--using directions given to her by a talking goldfish--to learn how to improve her family’s fortunes. As the goldfish’s instructions take Minli through the City of Bright Moonlight, the Village of the Moon Rain, and the Never-Ending Mountain, Minli befriends many strange characters, including a trickster king, enlightened children, and a lost dragon, who all tell her stories that make her see the truth in her father’s tales, but as Minli gets closer to the Old Man in the Moon, she realizes her experiences have changed her view of her family’s fortunes, making her ask a question that will alter the future of the Valley of the Fruitless Mountain in unexpected ways. Drawing inspiration from not only Chinese folktales but also American fairy tales like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Grace Lin has crafted a highly accessible and compulsively readable folktale, further enhanced by her beautiful full-color illustrations. Readers who enjoy this tale will be delighted to find that Lin provides a list of books about Chinese folktales that inspired her own story at the end of her Author’s Note, helping them expand their knowledge of stories from other cultures. 2009, Little Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12.

From CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices 2010)
Life is hard in Minli’s Village of Fruitless Mountain, where she lives with Ba and Ma, her father and mother. Despite their hardships, Minli finds joy in the magical stories Ba tells at dinner each evening. When Minli spends her family’s last two coins to buy a goldfish, the fantasy of her father’s stories merges with the bleak reality of their daily life. Unable to feed the fish, Minli releases it in the river, and in payment the fish tells her how to get to Never-Ending Mountain. There, Minli knows, she can ask a question of the Old Man of the Moon. Determined to find out how to change the fortune of her town, she sets off. Grace Lin deftly inserts a series of tales inspired by traditional Chinese folktales into the larger tapestry of Minli’s extraordinary journey that is full of adventure and trials. Gorgeous book design augments this fast-paced fantasy, including occasional full-page color illustrations, chapter heading decorations, and a typeface treatment that visually distinguishes the folktale segments from the overarching story of Minli’s quest. CCBC Category: Fiction for Children. 2009, Little, Brown, 278 pages, $16.99. Ages 8-11.

This story would simply make a good read-aloud but it could also be used in lessons on descriptive writing with phrases like a “sea of shaking heads” (pg. 117) and the description of the palace garden on page 127. There are also many good vocabulary words that could be taught from this book such as chagrined, commotion, flamboyant, and destiny. Many of the folklore included in the story could be used as reader response topics where students have to tell if there was a lesson to be learned from the story or not.

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