Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin (2009)
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“You can only lose what you cling to.”
For American elementary school children there are different ways to explore or learn or dive into Asian culture. You can read picture books by Alan Say. You can study dragons. You can eat Chinese food. Read to Them has invited families ready to share chapter books to read Bette Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (1984) – a tale that starts in China, but largely involves assimilating to Brooklyn. It contains its share of Chinese wisdom and lore – but it doesn’t really take you to China.
Welcome to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Here you will go on a journey – through forests and mountains and villages. You will meet monkeys and dragons and goldfish. A peddlar, a village boy, a king, a dragon – and a man of mystery and wisdom. You will eat with the peasants – and with the kings. And you will hear a series of Chinese tales that act as the founding heart of Grace Lin’s tale.
It’s a long book – over 200 pages. But it’s still a book for young children. How?
Our protagonist is young Minli – who intrepidly takes off to try to save her family from penury. (She’s following a legend – a legend told by her legend-sharing father – Ba.) And while it’s certainly scary to set off on the road by yourself when you’re a young girl – Lin’s tale actually takes place in a Chinese land of mystery and wonder – so you’re really not all that unsafe.
Every chapter tells a new story, introduces new characters and scenarios. One never knows quite how to interpret the next revelation or slice of wisdom or piece of evidence. We are as Minli, traveling and waiting to be enlightened by the next tale or interpreter.
The book is graced with a consistent series of colorful, entertaining, enlightening illustrations. The affordable, paperback edition is absolutely gorgeous.
And of course the book has wisdom – delivered from books and royalty and dragons and people in mountains in the clouds and best of all, by a goldfish. (Who actually doesn’t sound all that different than the one in The Cat in the Hat.) The ultimate message of Lin’s sinuous, twisty story is not an unfamiliar one – “you can only lose what you cling to.” But Lin delivers her homilies gently and gives young readers ample, patient opportunity to ponder and appreciate simple virtues like Patience, Thankfulness, and Appreciation. These may come in Chinese packaging – which makes them seem foreign and exotic – but they are of course universal virtues. How much the better to hold up a book like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as a mirror to remind us and instruct us what’s valuable and worth treasuring.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon contains so many riches, it is sure to enrich and enlighten readers (and listeners) of varying ages and younger listeners will get all that much more out of it – the second time around.