To Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
with Grace Lin

h1 July 22nd, 2009 by jules

Right around the time that Grace Lin did a blog tour for her new illustrated novel, the already well-acclaimed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I was picking up my library copy of the book. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Remember how I mentioned on Monday that I’m probably far into Overdues Territory with my copy of Brian Floca’s Moonshot? Well, that is keeping company with Grace’s novel, too. I just had to hold on to it a while longer to soak it all in some more, as well as enjoy the illustrations as long as I could. (Yes, I’m a huge supporter of my local library, funding services with my delinquent due-date fees. Noble me. I do what I can to help out.)

I also wanted to hold on to it so that I could share a bit of it with you today. Grace is here this morning, too, to share some illustrations and say just a bit about the book’s protagonist. I’m happy she obliged my request to say anything at all, since she’s already completed a blog tour. (For those interested in reading those stops on her tour, I’ll post them at the bottom.)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 2009) makes a generous contribution to the list of children’s literature’s heroines. Minli is a young girl who lives in a “faded brown” village on Fruitless Mountain with her impoverished mother and father: “The villagers called it Fruitless Mountain because nothing grew on it and birds and animals did not rest there.” The land in this village is hard, stubborn. Minli and her parents live in a house “so small that its wood boards, held together by the roof, made one think of a bunch of matches tied with a piece of twine.” Immediately, Grace establishes that Minli is special: She doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the villlagers. Her eyes shine; she’s always ready for an adventure; and she posseses a “fast smile that flashe{s} from her face.”

One of the hardest parts of this book was settling on Minli’s name,” Grace told me. “Coming from a picture book background, I wanted the name to be easy to read aloud but also authentic and not too generic. I wanted my character to have, well character. I realized that I wanted the character’s name to mean something, to help define her personality traits, but the problem with Chinese names for girls is that most of them emphasize beauty or passive virtues. I wanted my character not to be personified by her outer beauty; I wanted her to have inner strength, to be smart and independent.

For a while she was named ‘Cai,’ which means ‘colorful,’ because I wanted her to be full of life and color against the dull village. But Cai is not really a traditional Chinese girl name, and it is rather difficult to pronounce correctly. (It would be embarrassing if I butchered my own character’s name in a reading!) So, I continued researching.

Finally, I hit on the name ‘Minli’ (which is kind of the Chinese version of ‘Emily’) in the book Best Chinese Names–Your Guide to Auspicious Names by Liu Xiaoyan, and learned that it meant ‘quick and clever.’ It felt right almost immediately, so quickly and cleverly Minli was named!

Minli’s bitter mother, anxious for wealth in her lifetime, communicates with her husband and young daughter via a constant stream of resentful sighs. However, lucky for Minli, her father tells stories, stories that keep Minli from suffering from the ennui that her fellow villagers—and her own mother—simply tolerate. Minli’s father, Ba, entertains her with these stories every night after dinner; “his black eyes sparkled like raindrops in the sun when he began a story.” Even Ma smiles a little, though she spends a great deal of her time scolding Ba for filling Minli’s head with nonsense and false hope. Ba tells stories of how Fruitless Mountain is the broken heart of one Jade Dragon — and how the Mountain will be forever bare until Jade Dragon is reunited with her children, Pearl, Yellow, Long, and Black, who had given their lives for all those on earth. Ba also tells the stories of powerful and proud magistrates, the Book of Fortune, and—most importantly—the Old Man of the Moon, known to possess the knowledge of the world and the ability to answer any question.

Minli decides to leave home for the Never-Ending Mountain in order to ask the Old Man of the Moon to change her family’s fortune — or lack thereof. On the way she meets a bound dragon, also determined to join her on her journey to the Old Man of the Moon. Even once Minli frees him, he is unable to fly. Minli also meets a talking fish and the Green Tiger, finds Dragon Gate, hears the Story of the Buffalo Boy’s Friend and the String of Destiny, meets a king disguised as a beggar and a long list of other unforgettable characters, and learns that one only loses what one clings to. And her journey eventually helps her come to understand that she doesn’t actually need what she came for. Minli’s parents—back at home, having given up their search for Minli—come to a similar understanding, learning the challenges, but great value, of faith in the return of a loved one. Grace embeds stories within the chapters, marked with titles and launched by the folks Minli meets on her journey, in this fantasy-meets-Chinese-folklore-meets-The-Wonderful-Wizard-of-Oz novel for young readers. (Grace stated at her recent Paper Tigers interview that the story is very loosely based on the Chinese folktale “Olive Lake.”)

Grace’s novel is tightly-written, briskly-paced. Best of all, in this Illustration Junkie’s opinion, the novel is…yes, illustrated! Why can’t we have more illustrated novels in this world? Or, as Grace put it at Paper Tigers:

I loved the illustrated Middle Grade books when I was younger and I still do. I think they add so much to the experience of reading. To me, they are perfect — they give a glimpse of visualization into the world you are reading, but not so much that you aren’t left without anything to imagine. Also, they make the experience of owning and holding a book feel that much more special — turning the page and seeing a full color illustration is almost like discovering a jewel and the book itself feels like a little treasure.

I hope these days, in the age of technology with browsers and kindles, these kinds of illustrated books will be even more cherished. With so much doom and gloom about the future of publishing, to create books that are not just cheap throw-aways, but are beautiful objects to enjoy is something to consider. It is being done; my editor was able to convince her boss to print Where the Mountain Meets the Moon with full color illustrations by using Castle Corona by Sharon Creech as an example, but it is uncommon. I’d like to see a little more of it.

I second that.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, and I thank Grace for stopping by for a quick character-insight — and for the bright, beautiful, wake-me-up-better-than-coffee illustrations.

* * * * * * *

“Minli took one step into the walled courtyard and then stopped. Countless red threads covered the ground like intricate lace. Interwoven in the red strings were thousands and thousands of small clay figures, each no longer than her finger; like a spider, in the exact center, sat the Old Man of the Moon.

He sat cross-legged, with a giant book on his lap. His head was bowed over two clay figures in his hand, so that the most that Minli saw of him was the top of his head. But she could see his delicate, wrinkled hands, skillfully tying the figures in his lap together with a red thread. A blue silk bag full of red strings lay open beside him, and Minli felt a shock run through her as she saw it. She had seen that bag before!…

The Old Man reached beside him for his walking stick — a bent, twisted wood stick — and tapped it on the ground. Silently, the clay figures floated from his hand, drifted in the air, then settled to the ground at opposite ends of the courtyard. The Old Man’s thread still connected them and the red line wove itself among the other strands surrounding him.

As Minli stared, the Old Man looked at her. The silver hair of his beard seemed to flow like a glowing waterfall and disappear into the folds of his robes, and his dark eyes matched the blackness of the night sky.

‘Ah,’ the Old Man said, ‘it’s you.’”

* * * * * * *

Grace’s recent blog tour for those wanting more information:

And don’t miss Jama Rattigan’s post on July 1st.

* * * * * * *

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. Copyright © 2009 by Grace Lin. Published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. Reproduced by permission of the author.

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17 comments to “To Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
with Grace Lin”

  1. It is a gorgeous book – and just the kind I end up “supporting” my library for too!


  2. Sigh. Loved hearing about Minli’s name. Such a gorgeous book. Thanks for the link love ! :)


  3. That’s really beautiful. I, too, hope more publishers are able to get behind the idea of creating a beautiful book for the book’s own sake, and get some more art in there.


  4. I consider library late fees as a donation to literacy. No one supports literacy more than I!


  5. Thanks so much for such a lovely post! I’m thrilled you liked the book.


  6. this is a really beautiful story, not only an encouragement to publishers to invest in “treasure” books, but an encouragement to the children who read it to be like minli– ready for joy, invested in stories, and not one to just wait for change…
    thank you for the find, it’s lovely :)


  7. I love how Grace gets inspired — here by Oz, in Year of the Dog I think she mentioned Beverly Cleary love — then turns that into something totally Grace Lin. I look forward to reading this.


  8. {{{goosebumps}}}

    I love that excerpt! And I love Minli’s name, and the story behind it, and everything Grace has to say about illustrated books. Brava, ladies.


  9. Oh, I am soooo inspired.
    First off, it is beautiful.
    Second, so is everything Grace says.
    !!!!!
    Right????

    My Tall One has listed Grace as her favorite author since Year of the Dog and now THIS will be her birthday present. Yea!!!!


  10. Grace is not only talented as all get out, she is a beautiful person inside and out. One could hate her for all that, except she is such a sweetie–and funny to boot.

    Rock on, Grace Lin!

    Jane


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  12. I can attest to everything that Jane said about Grace. Grace is one of the finest people that I have ever met. I consider myself truly fortunate to have her as a close friend. She’s a sweetie–and a great cupcake baker to boot.


  13. Can’t wait to get ahold of this book! Thanks in advance, Grace, and thanks for this enlightening post.


  14. I need to buy this book! I love books as objects of art. :o)


  15. I can’t wait to hold this jewel in my hands! Thanks for this really lovely post.


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  17. I have been fascinated by the mystifying red thread in chinese folklore. In this book, the red thread and Minli leave many thoughts of ‘what if..’ Loved this book.


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