Wednesday, February 02, 2011

read it: where the mountain meets the moon

relatively recently, i joined goodreads and library thing and started writing short reviews of some of the books on our collective nightstands. but, i thought it might be good to start posting them to the blog.

i just finished reading Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. over the years we've read a few of Lin's books - Dim Sum for Everyone, Fortune Cookie Fortunes and Lissy's Friends. i'm always so impressed with her stories and illustrations. there's something about them that is so carefully crafted and well... full of grace. :) her latest novel is absolutely dazzling. from goodreads:

"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 about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories 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."

paloma got to read it first when we got it from the library. i was a little worried because she's only 7 and i've read reviews that it's geared towards 10 yos. but she picked it up eagerly - see dragon on cover - and finished it within a few days. she knew that i wanted to read it to her, but she couldn't wait. she even teased me, letting me know where she was in the book and what fantastical event was happening. she also kept complaining that peaches were not in season now and their constant presence in the book made her crave them. as soon as she finished, and i picked it up, she continually asked me, "where are you? are you done yet?"

finally, i read it and was so sad to put it down... unlike my experience with The Anybodies, i couldn't put it down. although both books focus on young girls with seemingly impossible quests, magical circumstances and creatures, i felt so much more sympathy and appreciation for minli. i loved every character really - even the silly laughing stone lion cub. minli's incredible adventure and the fables/parables interwoven into her story are as gorgeous and lush as the peaches she eats, the dragon well tea she drinks and the moon rain flowers that bloom. grace lin's pacing, prolific language, luminous and detailed illustrations complete the perfect package. it was especially clear to me that because of paloma's deep interest in all kinds of myths and fairytales and her own sense of innocent fearlessness that she feels a kindred spirit in minli.

last but not least, grace lin writes a final note at the end of the book - here's part of it:

"By the age of eleven, I had fully disregarded my Asian heritage. My wise mother, knowing that any type of forced cultural exposure would lead to scorn, silently left half a dozen Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books on the bookshelf. Unable to resist the pull of a new book, I very quietly began to read them."

she continues to say that she was disappointed at first in the translations and illustrations of the stories. however, eventually, she overlooked these flaws and rediscovered the core beauty of the stories and her asian roots.

as an asian american woman and now mother, i can totally relate to grace and her mom. there was a time in my life (hello, 1980s chicago!) when i found it too difficult to "be filipino enough". i didn't speak tagalog, bisaya or ilocano. for a filipino - i was too dark, too tall with an athletic, instead of lithe and willowy, build. i didn't play piano. i was far from graceful, etc... and the very prominent asymetrical cystic hygroma on my neck didn't help matters either.

but my father, like minli's, is an excellent storyteller. when he would visit, he would always retell stories about Juan Tamad other filipino mythical creatures like aswangs and wakwaks. it helped me to realize that i shouldn't dwell on not being filipino enough... i realized how proud i was that we had our own folktales... that i should focus on learning everything i could about what being filipino meant to me how my meager offerings would add to that definition.

as a mom, i worry that paloma and porkchop will also feel a disconnect to their filipino sides. like grace lin's mom, i have left many filipino children's books on their bookshelves to read. and they do! :) we will have to add Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to our collection. i'm especially thankful for this wonderful book, that exists among other not so great multicultural books, in that it might remind my children of the wonder of their own heritage, to reflect on what it means to be thankful, to have faith, to be patient, to understand what it means to be courageous, to read more, to tell stories and dream bigger - all the way up to the moon and back again....

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