Today’s Sail Away Story post is our fourth edition of “A little birdy told me…” in which guest writers are featured and share about their favorite children’s books and schools from around the world.
Meet today’s “little bird,” Anne Marie Coyoca–mother, educator, volunteer and children’s literature enthusiast. Originally from California, she currently lives in China with her husband and two daughters. I am delighted to highlight Anne’s contribution about Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain meets the Moon, a novel that three generations in my family (myself, my mom and my daughter) have read and cherished.
Author and Illustrator: Grace Lin
Regional Focus: China
Genre: fantasy, fiction, folklore
In Anne’s words:
I was first introduced to Grace Lin’s books at my daughter’s school library in Beijing, China where we live. After reading, The Year of the Dog with my daughter the first thought I had was, “This is the kind of book I wish I had growing up!”
The Year of the Dog is Grace Lin’s own childhood story growing up as the only Chinese American in her elementary school and town. As a second generation Asian American myself I related to this book with both humor and nostalgia. Growing up I loved reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, but also longed to find books where the main female character was not only strong, but Asian, like myself.
After scouring my daughter’s school library for all of Grace Lin’s books, both picture books and early readers, I finally found her 2010 Newberry Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Often described as the Chinese Wizard of Oz it introduces readers to Minli, the daughter of hard- working parents who toil in the fields day in and day out. At night her father tells her stories about the Old Man and the Moon who has the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by her father’s stories, Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon in hopes of changing her family’s fortune. On her journey she meets a doubtful dragon, a talking goldfish and an array of magical creatures who accompany her on her quest to find the answer to life’s ultimate question.
Themes: storytelling, family, friendship, faith
What I love:
- Beautiful illustrations enhance the richness of Chinese culture throughout the book. Each chapter has a small traditional Chinese paper cutting illustration at the top which adds to the Chinese charm of the book. There are a small handful of pages that depict colorful scenes of Chinese nature, art and architecture all attractively illustrated with Grace Lin flair and style.
- Grace Lin weaves both fantasy and Chinese folklore seamlessly throughout the story. In her author’s notes at the end of the book she writes how some characters are based off of the real myths, while others are embellished and derived from her own imagination. The book is like a fusion of both past and present, as well as traditional and modern versions of China.
- Living in China, I am familiar with some Chinese symbols and themes, but reading them as characters in the book gave these everyday symbols more importance to me. For example, I always knew dragons and tigers were very prominent symbols in Chinese culture, however, seeing these animals acted out as characters one mythical, the other real, gave me a better understanding of how Chinese see the importance of these symbols in their culture.
- The book’s message is timeless and universal. By the end of the book, all the stories and characters are brought together and remind all readers, regardless of what culture or ethnicity, the true value of family and friendship.
- Think about the books and stories that you have read or grown up with. How do these stories reflect who you are? Which stories have given you a new understanding that you did not have before?
- What stories are true or mythical in your own culture? What stories have been passed down from past generations to the present?
- If you had a chance to meet the Old Man of the Moon and could change your fortune, what question would you ask him?
- What was your favorite story in the book?
- There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Find out what year of the Chinese zodiac you were born in. For example, my oldest daughter was born in the year of the tiger, while my youngest one was born in the year of the dragon. My husband and I are both sheep. My in-laws, both first generation Chinese tease my husband and me that we will both be eaten alive! Which is partially and figuratively true!
- Tell your story. What books do you love or did you love growing up with? How have those stories inspired you to tell your story?