Those who are fairy tale inclined know that when a story begins “Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal. The villagers called it Fruitless Mountain because nothing grew on it and birds and animals did not rest there” (1) the ending will bring a renewal of fertility and abundance. But it is the story in the middle that counts to the reader, and in this fine novel the art of story itself matters a great deal indeed. More than entertainment, history and wisdom, stories here are a source of vitality. In contrast to the dreary landscape, our heroine Minli has a pink-cheeked glow specifically because of the stories her father tells: even his own “black eyes sparkled like raindrops in the sun when he began a story” (3). I’m a huge fan of this kind of meta-storytelling. This book charmed me from start to finish.
Grace Lin weaves a loving homage to her cultural inheritance with these layers of story beautifully rendered in words and illustrations. Seemingly disparate characters—a dragon, a tiger and the elusive Old Man of the Moon—and plot lines are delightfully tied together by the end of the book. It struck me as the sort of work that might have gestated within the author throughout much of her life. The execution was flawless.
While I enjoyed this year’s Newberry winner, When You Reach Me, I found more “classic” potential in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (which received an Honor). Library hound that I am, I don’t purchase many books these days, but this one’s on the to-buy list. The illustrations are plentiful and chapters are short enough that I’m cuing this as one of the first novels to read aloud to Charlie.