Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: Available now in paperback

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the story of Minli, a young girl who has grown up in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain in rural China. She has spent her life listening to her father's stories, fantastical tales of old China that take her mind away from the poverty in which she lives. Minli's mother, however, can't escape into the stories and her discontent eventually drives Minli to leave in the middle of the night to find The Old Man of the Moon.

Minli's story is interspersed with Chinese folklore and gorgeous color pictures. Grace Lin has told a story that is at once fanciful and full of the realities of poverty. 

I chose this book for the fourth graders in my summer book club. I chose it because the town where they live is very small and sheltered--there are only about 20 kids per grade, and almost all of them are white. In my after-school art classes with these kids, I've observed a significant amount of racist behavior toward the Chinese, which is weird because we have two students of Chinese descent and the kids are perfectly accepting of them. Most of the racism takes the form of off-color jokes that the kids probably learned from their parents.

This book is steeped in Chinese folklore. It shows the poverty and culture richness that is so prevalent, even today, and it portrays these things with a perfect balance of realism and fantasy. I know that reading one novel, no matter how good it is, can't reverse ten years of entrenched racism, but I'm hoping that the book will help me open a dialogue about jokes at another culture's expense. At the very least, maybe I'll be able to ask, "How would Minli feel about that?" the next time I hear a racist joke.

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