Task: The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series.
I adore middle grade books. These are the books that come to mind when I imagine my happiest reading moments and that I’m probably the most excited to share with my daughter once she gets old enough. For starters, The Trumpet of the Swan (Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web too, but TotS doesn’t get nearly enough love), The Borrowers, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, The Giver, The Yearling, all of the horse books, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Little Women, Madeleine L’Engle, all the books where the dog dies horribly, etc.
These are the books that I think about when I think about peak childhood summer afternoons. Before puberty complicated everything, it was hard to beat the pleasure of stretching out on the couch in the living room with a good book and a bag of Lays sour cream and onion potato chips, occasionally tipping my head back to watch benign cumulus clouds float overhead and occasionally get between me and the sun, making the room go comfortably dark for a few minutes.
I’ve kind of revived that afternoon indulgence lately during Eula’s naps. I’ve stopped rushing around to do chores and instead spend that couple of hours drinking coffee and reading. It feels incredibly luxurious and I look forward to it every weekend.
Anyway, nine-year-old me would have been all over this book. Minli is a young girl who leaves home to find the Old Man of the Moon in order to change her family’s fortune. Along the way, she makes friends with a dragon born from a painting who wants to ask the Old Man of the Moon how to fly. Most of the chapters have a story nested inside them, whether it’s one of Minli’s Ba’s stories, a tale from a traveler, or a memory. Everything weaves together in a very satisfying way.
I mean, I guess I could complain that Minli is a bit too perfect – she’s kind, brave, generous, plucky, etc. and really doesn’t have any negative attributes – but my heart wouldn’t be in the criticism. She’s a great young hero to root for and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with her. I’m glad to have this on the shelf for whenever Eula’s ready for it.
In her author’s note, Grace Lin credits the books of Chinese fairy tales her mom left in her room for her to find and includes a bibliography of Chinese storybooks. She talks about that a little more in this article, and mentions her disappointment when she was told she couldn’t play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz because she was Chinese-American. I’d actually thought quite a bit about The Wizard of Oz while reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. It’s clearly inspired by Chinese folklore, but it’s got a definite Baum inflection too. It’s a really wonderful combination and drives home how limiting it is when people like Lin’s old classmate try to force individuals into labeled boxes like that.
Full disclosure: I thought this was Book One in a series. It’s not, really. There are two more “companion titles” – Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver – but they’re not exactly items in a series. However, this challenge isn’t graded, so I’m counting it anyway, and I do not believe I can be stopped.