Where the Mountain Meets the Moon had me at ni hao (thanks, Kai Lan!)
Young Minli, who lives on a poor farm with her mother and father, resolves to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask how she can change her family’s fortune. The Old Man, you see, is the Guardian of the Book of Fortune, and can answer any question in the world. So Minli sets off to find Never-Ending Mountain to see the Old Man, and along the way, has all sorts of adventures–meeting talking goldfish, selfish monkeys, and a very special dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
Meanwhile, Minli’s parents embark on a different sort of journey, as they endeavor to better fathom their daughter’s actions. A lovely, organic symmetry develops between the tale of Minli and that of her parents, resulting in a deeply satisfying ending.
Lin incorporates several Chinese myths and folktales into her narrative, and I was surprised to see some that I’d always thought of as Indian tales. The monkey who refuses to let go the treasure in his fist even at the cost of losing his freedom–surely I’d read that in an Amar Chitra Katha sometime? There must be interesting scholarship out there on the shared roots of such primordial stories… Meanwhile, I’ll chalk up yet another area of ignorance and move on, to another story that made me uncomplicatedly happy. I’d last read about the mean shopkeeper, the beggar and a magic peach tree in Grade 3 or so, in my Radiant Reader textbook at Mater Dei Convent school, New Delhi, and I’d forgotten it till now. There’s strong magic about re-discovered tales that work in their second life; Lin’s telling evoked not just my memory of the story, but of childhood itself, a time when fables reassured us that life would reward virtue. If books are still in currency five hundred years from now, Where the Mountain… will be around.
Where the Mountain meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Genre: Children’s lit. (7 years and over IMO)