“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a common mantra in my family, including anything from literal books to gifts that come in boxes with misleading labels. Generally, this saying is quite accurate, but then my sister selected a book from a library shelf several weeks ago and showed it to me with the words “Isn’t this a pretty book?” Taking the novel in my hand, I read the title Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, flipped through the colorful pages for a moment, and decided to give it a try. The small children’s novel turned out to be as good as its cover.
Minli lives on Fruitless Mountain with her Ba and Ma. Their life is humble and hard, and they spend their days working in the rice fields and their nights eating meager meals and listening to Ba’s stories. Ma scoffs at Ba’s stories as a waste of time, but Minli loves to hear them and listens in rapt attention, barraging Ba with questions when each tale ends. Usually, Ba ends Minli’s flow of queries by telling her, “That is a question you will have to ask the Old Man of the Moon” (9). In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, American author Grace Lin spins an enchanting tale about Minli and how she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how she can change her family’s poor fortune.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a book full of surprises. The edition is lovely, with charming illustrations, soft paper, delicate fonts, and jewel-tone ink. I was especially impressed to learn that Lin illustrated the book herself. Combined with the artwork, Lin’s lyrical writing style and intertwining stories within the larger narrative create a beautiful tale that richly reflects Chinese folklore. In her “Author’s Note,” Lin explains how her mother introduced her to Chinese folk- and fairy-tale books, and Lin writes, “Even in the barest states, the timeless stories had a charm of their own—and I began to add my own details to the stories” (n.p.). The author’s familiarity with Chinese folklore emerges in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and enriches the storytelling.
In addition to the book’s artistry, the themes are also good. The story emphasizes the blessings of friendship and family and implicitly promotes the virtues of courage and compassion. I like how every protagonist has a story to tell for those who listen. None of the people in the story is a professional storyteller, but they each gladly share the tales they have heard or the stories of their own adventures. In some cases, the stories teach wisdom or history; in others, they introduce a character or explain a situation. Though perhaps unintentionally, Lin reminds her audience of the value of stories, heritage, and the willingness to listen.
On her quest, Minli meets magical characters, befriends a dragon, and learns about kindness, courage, and gratitude. All of the main characters grow through their trials and adventures, and in the end, Minli finds even more than that for which she is searching. I think I can accurately say, judge this book by its cover, for the book is as vibrant, beautiful, cheerful, culturally rich, and carefully-crafted as the picture of the little girl riding the winding red dragon on the cover.
Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.