Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

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.

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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.

Discussion:

  • 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?

Connections:

  • 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?

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Nochecita–Little Night

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Yuyi Morales

Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been thinking about mothers.  I am sitting in the airport in route to meet my mother in New Orleans.  Despite the fact that I am nearly 40 years old, she is traveling from California to meet me mid way between Guatemala, where I will receive an award on behalf of La Puerta Abierta for Innovative International Library Programs from the American Library Association.  While I am now a mother myself, my mom is still MY mother, and I will bask in her love and support over the next few days.

As I remember my own mom, my mind wanders to the current issues of the US, the heart-breaking stories of children separated from their mothers in unfamiliar territory, without the guidance, love, warmth, and security that we associate with motherhood.  I imagine the what ifs…what if my daughters were separated from me, and I was unable to protect and sooth them?  Sigh.  Deep breath.

And my thoughts drift  back to our sweet students at La Puerta Abierta in Guatemala who spent the day honoring  Mother Earth by planting trees to the mountain highlands with their teachers and families.

Today, I share one of my favorite stories about mothers.  

Meet Little Night and Mother Sky in Morales’ dreamy tale of the love exchanged between mother and child. Mother Sky prepares her tiny daughter, Little Night, for the evening. As Mother Sky attempts to set the scene for bedtime, Little Night engages in clever games of hide and seek, inspiring her mother to discover where she is hidden. Children will love the idea of a girl who plays while she should be sleeping.

What I love:

  • Morales captures the loving rituals between mother and child.
  • The illustrations allow one to feel as if they have walked into a dream.
  • Little Night and Mother Sky are beautifully brown, round, and dressed in traditional Mexican clothing.
  • The book can be found in both English and Spanish.

Themes: family, rituals, the night sky

Discussion:

  1. What are your family bedtime rituals?
  2. Do you have a favorite bedtime story? What is it?
  3. What can you see from your window at night?

Connections:

  1. Take a walk with an adult at night to admire the evening sky.
  2. Use black, white, purple, blue and yellow paints to create your own night sky.
  3. Record and draw the moon phases for a month.

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Islandborn

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Junot Diaz

Illustrator: Leo Espinosa

Genre:  children’s literature

I have always been intrigued by stories of origin and fascinated by the power of memory.  My daughters were born in Guatemala, and I am from the United States.  My husband is Belgian, but he was born in Brazil and grew up in Britain.  Children are innately curious and I encourage my kids to ask questions about my childhood, their father’s childhood and the journeys of their grandparents.     

In Junot Diaz’s first children’s book Islandborn, we meet Lola, an inquisitive, young, and creative girl who attends a school with many students who have immigrated from different countries.  When Lola’s teacher, Ms. Obi, asks her students to draw a picture of their country of origin, Lola is perplexed.  She left “the island” as a young child and her memories of her birth country are fuzzy and difficult to recall.  Ms. Obi recommends that Lola talks with family and friends to recollect memories of “the island,” and that’s exactly what she does.  We meet neighbors, friends, and family who share insight to life, both the beauty and struggles, of the Dominican Republic and with the aid of illustrations by Leo Espinosa, we enter the collective memory of Lola and her community.

What I love:

  • The main character, Lola, is bright, curious, loving and represents cultural diveristy.
  • Island born  is a story that both children and adults will enjoy and find meaningful.
  • The artwork by Espinosa is wildly colorful and imaginative.
  • Juno Diaz simultaneously wrote Islandborn in Spanish.  The Spanish edition is Lola.

Themes: memory, origin, family history, immigration

Discussion:

  • Lola attends a school with many children from different countries.  Are there children from different countries at your school?  Where are they from?
  • What are some of the memories that Lola collects about the Dominican Republic?  Are all of the memories happy?  What does the monster represent?
  • Lola learns of foods that are celebrated in the Dominican Republic that her friends celebrate and remember like sweet mangos and crunchy empanadas.  Imagine that you are an adult.  What foods do you think that you will remember from your childhood?

Connections:

  • The Dominican Republic is celebrated for music and Caribbean beats.  Collect music from the DR and dance your heart out like the characters in Islandborn.
  • In the style of Lola, make a picture or collage  that represent your country of origin.
  • Interview a parent or grandparent about their childhood memories.  Prepare a few questions before you interview them that you would like to explore.

Nine O’ Clock Lullaby

Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel to India with my eldest daughter, Emma.  On our journey from Guatemala, we stopped in New York and Dubai, and passed through  many time zones.  When we finally arrived at our destination, we were 11.5 hours ahead of our friends and family back home (yes, India is one of the few countries that has a .5 hour change in time).  Emma and I marveled at the concept of her sister preparing for  the day to begin as we were putting on pajamas .  We wondered what her grandmother in Belgium was doing when is was 9:00 PM in India, and what her cousins in California were up to as we gazed at the stars over the Himalayas.  When it’s 9:00 PM in Guatemala, what time is it in your home?

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author:  Marilyn Singer

Illustrator: Frane Lessac

Genre:  children’s literature

Discover what is happening around the world in different time zones. A young girl learns that when it′s 9 P.M. in Brooklyn, it′s 10 P.M. in Puerto Rico, and midnight on the mid-Atlantic. Far from the busyness of New York traffic, the Puerto Rican night is filled with conga music, sweet rice, and fruit ice. In India, villagers begin their morning chores as well… ropes squeak, buckets splash, and bracelets jangle. Meanwhile, in Australia, a sly kookaburra is ready for a noontime feast.

What I love:

  • A great book to explore the concept of time zones, which is abstract for children.
  • The rhyming in the book is fun to read.
  • Illustrations are bright and colorful.

Themes: world exploration, time zones, culture

Discussion:

  • How can it be day in some countries and night in others at the same moment?
  • Are there any countries from the story that you would like to visit? Why?
  • What does 9:00 PM at night look like in your house?

Connections:

  • Make a time book and investigate what might be happening in four different countries at one particular time. Illustrate or write about what scenes might be occurring in the different countries.
  • Explore, what does breakfast look like in your country and in another country?
  • Make your own clock with a paper plate. Talk with a friend about what you do at different times of the day.
  • Look at a world map. Predict what time it is in different regions of the world.

Epossumondas

Regional focus:  North America

Author:  Coleen Salley

Illustrator:  Janet Stevens

Genre:  Children’s literature

Next month I will be traveling to New Orleans for the American Library Association National Conference.  La Puerta Abierta will receive an award for Innovative International Library Projects!  I am thrilled to represent our center at the conference, and I am equally as excited to explore the layers of culture in New Orleans.  In honor of my next journey, today I celebrate a read aloud favorite from the south of the United States.  

Epossumondas is a comical tale of a young possum, Epossumondas, who is doted on by his loving mother, a cheerful, round, and gregarious human, and his auntie.  We follow Epossumndas through a series of hilarious mishaps as a result of his interpretations of language in a way that’s far too literal.

Epossumondas takes place in the south of the United States and the reader receives insight to authentic southern culture including fruit pies, alligators and vocabulary like “sweet little patootie.”

Coleen Salley explains that Epossumondas is a type of folktale known as a noodlehead story, one where mishaps happen but are not caused deliberately.  The plot might be highly improbable, but not impossible.

What I love:

  • Epossumondas is a really fun book to read aloud.
  • The story is absolutely silly.  Children and adults adore silly books.
  • A book that my children have asked to be read again and again.

Themes:  misunderstandings, communication, folktales, forgiveness, laughter

Discussion:

  • Have you ever misunderstood directions and done something all wrong?  What happened?
  • What does Epossumondas’ mother mean when she says, “You don’t have the sense you were born with”?
  • Have you ever seen a possum?  Would you like to have one as a pet?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • In Epossumondas, Coleen Salley uses many expressions from her culture and upbringing such as “sweet little patoottie”  Make a list of expressions that you and your family use that are particular to your culture.
  • Investigate other animals that are native to the southern United States such as the alligator, raccoon and nutria.
  • Explore other noodlehead stories and compare and contrast them with Epossumondas.