Sunday, January 7, 2018

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin)

Author: Grace Lin

Target Ages:  8-12

Genre:  Fantasy, Folklore

Awards:  Newbery Honor

Publisher Summary:  In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon. Minli’s mother tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense.  But Minli believes these enchanting stores and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune.  She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.

First Lines: 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 the birds and animals did not rest there.

Notable Quote:  I should have known we could not fight the Green Tiger with more anger.  We just add to his power that way.  His anger is his strength, but it can also be his weakness.  His anger can blind him, and that is when he is vulnerable.  

The hardest part of this review is not sharing all my favorite parts!  To do so would ruin the story for potential readers!  Here is just a bit...

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has short chapters and clearly marked sections. Each chapter begins with a small muted picture. Also, vibrant full-page traditional Chinese illustrations are interspersed. Both add to the charm and atmosphere.  

The narrative has many intertwined layers. First, it is a young heroine’s physical quest and personal journey.  On this quest the girl, Minli, meets a wide array of benevolent characters—a dragon, an orphan, a king, and twins—as well as malevolent ones—monkeys and a green tiger.  Through both charitable and wicked events, she learns the meaning of friendship and the secret of happiness (one of my favorite parts!).

A second layer is the power of stories. Nearly every character has a story to add to the fabric of the narrative. The stories inspire, guide, explain, and heal.  Like the red thread of fate, they are all interrelated to produce a thrilling adventure and to illustrate the power of the theme.   

While Minli’s quest is the main event, occasionally there is a switch to her parents.  An unexpected layer is the character development of her mother, which is not only satisfying but expertly woven into the overall theme.

Minli is a strong heroine. Her courage, sacrifice, and love for others are sure to inspire middle grade readers. I highly recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon for it's beautiful interwoven narrative, memorable characterization, and inspiring theme. 

Activities and Extension Ideas:
  • Geography: Identify China on a map.  Read a book about the country to learn some foundational information about the terrain and people.
  • Comparison: Discuss story parallels.  For instance, the beginning reminded me of "Jack and the Beanstalk" when she “foolishly” bought a goldfish with the only money in the home.  Then, she went on an otherworldly adventure to improve the fortune of her family.  Others have compared the story to The Wizard of Oz.  For older children, parallel Minli’s adventure to the quest motif in literature.
  • Figurative Language: There are examples of personification and imagery.  The most common type of figurative language is similes. Nearly every chapter has multiple comparisons. Have a simile scavenger hunt!  See how many the students can find in the chapter. Then, practice writing similes.  Using the surrounding details in the story, rewrite some of them using fresh and unique images.  
  • Symbolism:  To introduce the idea of symbolism, discuss the significance of some of the key images like animals—goldfish, dragons, tigers, monkeys, lions, and rabbits—and other literary archetypes like the red thread and moon, from Chinese culture and literature.
  • Story Map:  Map out how the various stories within the narrative connect to the main story line.
  • Literature: Check out a book of Chinese folklore at the library.  Read some additional stories. 
  • Writing:  As a group, with a partner, or individually, write an origin story.  Challenge students to incorporate similes and to be creative.
  • Art:  Plan one or more Chinese inspired art projects. Try Activity Village or Pinterest.
Internet Unit Plans:
For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle.


  1. I've had my eye on this book since it came out. Thanks for reminding me to see if my library has a copy.

  2. Just the cover makes me want to find this book today. I love the story line and you provided some great classroom extensions. Thanks for the review.

  3. A beautiful book of Chinese Folklore. Shared on twitter with the #DiverseKidLit group. I love the many elements in each story that inspire and heal! Beautiful review.

  4. Yes, one of my favorites! Did you k now this is the first book in a trilogy?

    1. No, I didn't. I will have to look for the other two. Thanks.

  5. I'm a sucker for folklore of all kinds, and especially when it comes with new tales I might not already know. This sounds like a delight, and just the kind of book I'm looking for!


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