Growing up with her extremely poor parents in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, Minli dreams of a life full of adventure and good fortune. Even though Minli and her family live in desperate times, working tirelessly in the rice fields every day and barely able to fill their bellies at night, their nights are filled with the magical tales told by Minli’s father. The tale that most strongly affects Minli is the tale of the Old Man of the Moon. As her father spins it, the Old Man of the Moon is able to transform the fortunes of those who confide in him. Hearing this, Minli sets out on an incredible journey to see if the Man of the Moon can change her own family’s fortune. Along the way, she meets characters that include a friendly dragon, an evil green tiger, and a pair of enthusiastic twins from the Village of Moon Rain who will help her find her way. This journey teaches her valuable lessons about herself, the importance of family and friends, and the determination to reach a goal all while she experiences excitement, magic, danger, and even humor. Will Minli’s family eventually experience the good fortune that Minli always dreamed for them? You must read to find out! ***For those interesting in continuing to read about Minli’s journey, author Grace Lin shares on her website that she has plans to write two companion books. Look for those in the near future!***
The amount of raw emotion Lin created within her characters in truly inspiring. Children and adults reading this book will easily be able to form a very real kinship with the protagonist, Minli, and relate strongly to the emotions she feels while rooting for her along the way. The lengths that Minli goes to in order to ensure her family’s good fortune and the grief that her family experiences in her absence are “compelling and thoroughly human,” as School Library Journal puts it. Minli’s attitude towards her journey comes from a very genuine place, and readers will easily be able to see that as they turn the pages.
Lin’s style of writing offers a very consistent point of view that will allow readers to not only fully delve into the fantasy world but also believe in the fantasy world created within their minds. Throughout the story, Lin creates fictional places like Never-Ending Mountain and the City of Bright Moonlight, and fictional characters like goldfish that speak and green tigers that demand things of their people. None of these elements, however, are far-fetched in nature when considering the context of the novel. All characters speak in a very conversational tone that young readers will easily be able to understand and events and characters are described in a very real manner. For example, Lin eloquently introduces her readers to the main character, Minli, when she writes, “Minli was not brown and dull like the rest of the village. She had glossy black hair with pink cheeks, shining eyes always eager with adventure, and a fast smile that flashed from her face” (Lin 2009, 2).
Interspersed throughout the novel are tales told by Minli’s father, the dragon, the myriad of characters Minli meets along her journey, and even the often skeptical Ma, Minli’s mother. As we learn from Lin in the “Author’s Note” section in the back of the novel, these stories are based upon Chinese legends Lin heard in her youth. In addition to these stories “deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot,” as Booklist states, they also provide an accurate portrayal of the Chinese culture, which children from all cultural backgrounds will thoroughly enjoy.
Also interspersed throughout the novel are beautiful illustrations set in Chinese inspired picture frames created by Grace Lin herself. These illustrations set the stage for allowing readers to visually experience the plot points of the novel. For example, on page 186, readers are able to visually understand what inhabitants of the Village of Moon Rain experience every night as they collect the pearl-like seeds that produce hundreds of silver trees that beautify their once drab city.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is best suited for advanced readers in fourth grade and up. Although the vocabulary is not highly advanced, the plot twists are abundant and the overall amount of information presented will require determination. Struggling readers who don’t comprehend well or read with a high level of fluency will likely become easily frustrated with this book. An alternative to sharing this charming story with all readers, regardless of reading level, would be to present this book in audio form. This would allow struggling readers to hear an example of how a fluent reader reads, expand their vocabulary, and improve their listening skills and allow all readers to expand their attention spans and adopt an appreciation for literary language (Vardell 2007, 223).
Grace Lin offers a wide array of resources on her personal website, http://www.gracelin.com. Some of these resources include a downloadable (and therefore free!) activity book which highlights activities like making a compass (just like Minli did in the novel), drawing a dragon, and learning how to draw the Chinese symbols for mountain and moon. These activities would be a great addition to any library program.
Also included on the website is an event kit that includes posters to promote the event, an invite to give to library participants, and all of the instructions for the game to be played at the event. Grace (n.d.) describes the game as “an age-appropriate series of puzzles; kids are rewarded at the end with a mysterious gift. The meaning of that gift can only be revealed by reading the book. Readers of the book get to relive the story of Minli’s journey, readers who have not yet read the book get excited and ALL have a great time!” What a fun way to encourage participation in library activities!
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was nominated for a 2012 Iowa Children’s Choice Award and a 2013 Nene Award. It has also been recommended by School Library Journal.
Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed November 17, 2013.
Grace Lin. n.d. “Activities.” Accessed November 18, 2013. http://www.gracelin.com/content .php?page=wherethemountainmeetsthemoon&display=activities
Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Hatchette Book Group. ISBN 978-0316038638