Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

This past October, I heard Grace Lin speak at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival. Her struggles as a multicultural author inspired me so much that I bought all her published juvenile books, which she signed for me. So, it’s with great delight I had the opportunity to interview her recently by email for Allison’s Book Bag.

Allison: Growing up you struggled to find balance between your cultural/ethnic identities.  Many of my students’ families are from other countries and face the same struggle.  What advice would you give to these students on finding balance?

Grace: Gosh, that’s hard because I do think it’s different for every person—each person has his or her own set of conflicts to experience. I guess the best thing would be to try to remember that for every problem your cultural heritage gives you, there is also a gift. It may not always be easy to see, but it’s there.

Allison: You write in your books that sometimes you were the only Asian girl in your school, and that this affected how you were treated and how you felt. What advice would you give to teachers who have students in similar situations? What can they do to help students of different races/cultures/needs feel more comfortable and more accepted?

Grace: Hmm, this is also a hard question to answer. I can only speak from my own experience; I am by no means an expert on child behavior. I do remember one specific teacher experience that was extremely helpful to me as a child; I wrote about it in The Year of the Dog. I never learned Chinese as a child and my classmates expected me to be able to read and speak it, one of them asking rather accusingly why I did not. My teacher spoke up and pointed out that all of the students in our class had ancestors from other countries and very few of them spoke any other language other than English. Some were German-American, some were Italian-American—yet they did not speak German or Italian. So, there should be no reason why I, as a Chinese-American, must be able to speak Chinese. I remember feeling very grateful, and in many ways, enlightened by my teacher’s words. It made me feel that, really, I was just like everyone else—even if it wasn’t as obvious.

Allison: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a mix of fantasy and Chinese folklore. What are your favorite Chinese folktales?

Grace: I have many favorite Chinese folktales, which is why I include them in my books! My favorite that I’ve never used in any of my books (yet) is the “Magic Paintbrush,” where a young boy is given a paintbrush and whatever he paints with it comes to life. Maybe I’ll use it in a book, someday!

Allison: If my readers wanted to broaden their reading of multicultural fiction for young people, what books would you recommend?

Grace: I would definitely encourage people to read these books. I think because these books are labeled “multicultural” many readers think the books are not for them, that it will be a story they won’t be able to relate to—and that’s not true at all!  And not only will readers find the stories relatable, they are also truly enjoyable. There is a great list of multicultural books to start of with here: http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/detailListBooks.asp?idBookLists=42

Of course, I hope readers try my books, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as well as the Pacy series. Off the above list, I highly recommend the Ruby Lu books and the picture books illustrated by Yumi Heo.

Allison: Although your family is from China, you grew up in the United States. A few years ago, you were able to visit China yourself. What was that experience like for you?

Grace: My parents are from Taiwan, which, depending on whom you talk to, is its own country or part of China. Regardless, there is definitely a very heavily Chinese-influenced culture. I’ve been to Taiwan many times, and it directly influenced my new novel, Dumpling Days, that comes out in January. That book is part of the Pacy series, and it is all about Pacy’s first trip to Taiwan.

I visited mainland China for the first time a few years ago and it was extremely interesting. Taiwan feels very modern, especially Taipei where my relatives live, but China was definitely more of a blend of very old and new. When we visited the ancient parts, the Asian folk and fairytales that I read in my youth came back to me—suddenly I could see the setting of where those stories could take place.  And this directly effected me—inspiring Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the book I am working on now, Starry River of the Sky.

Allison: In each of your chapter books, you write a lot about holidays. What is your favorite Chinese holiday? What is your favorite American holiday?

Grace: My favorite Chinese holiday is the Moon Festival. It’s kind of like the Asian equivalent of Thanksgiving. I even made a picture book about it—Thanking the Moon. I like it because it focuses on gratitude and quiet contemplation. My favorite American holiday is Christmas. I like all the crafts and decorations and the food!

Allison: What’s next?

Grace: As I mentioned, my novel Dumpling Days comes out in January. It continues Pacy’s story from The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat. This book follows Pacy on her summer vacation to Taiwan with her family. Like the prior books, it very much is based on my real life.  Dumpling Days is my parents’ favorite book of mine!

As that has been printing, I’ve been hard at work on the companion book to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  It’s called Starry River of the Sky and it comes out in October.  For those readers that know Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, this book is not a sequel—it doesn’t follow Minli’s story—but it takes place in the same world and there might be some other characters they recognize!

For more about Grace, check out her Frequently Asked Questions or Jama Rattigan’s In the Kitchen interview.

Anyone remember the B is for Betsy and E is for Eddie books by Carolyn Haywood? These were favorite chapter books of Grace Lin during her childhood. In many ways Lin’s three semi-autobiographical books for eight to twelve-year olds, Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, and Dumpling Days,” are similar to Haywood’s books. Lin and Haywood both wrote stories about average children and the ordinary events that took place in their lives at home, in school, and around the neighborhood. The main difference is that Lin has written about her experiences growing up Asian in a mainly Caucasian community. Lin has compared her reading of the Betsy and Eddie books to being wrapped in a warm hug. Despite our different ethnic backgrounds, Lin’s books feel that comfortable to me too.

The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat both start and end with Pacy’s family celebrating the Chinese New Year. The dominant theme of these two books is also related to the year being celebrated: The Year of the Dog is about finding new friends; The Year of the Rat symbolizes changes. The newest installment of the Pacy books, Dumpling Days, is different in being about Pacy’s trip to China with her family. Like the other two books, however, the clue to the theme of the book can be found in the title: No matter how bad Pacy’s day has been, dumplings can always brighten it. All three books are also about family, friendship, and love. Moreover, Grace Lin mixes in a lot of Chinese culture. The latter is often revealed through family stories, which enhance rather than interrupt the plots, and in the superstitions of various relatives.

THE YEAR OF THE DOG

Cover of "The Year of the Dog"

Cover of The Year of the Dog

In The Year of the Dog, Pacy makes a new friend. If you think this friendship theme is overdone, the twist is that before Melody’s family moves into the neighborhood Pacy has been the only Asian girl in school. The day Melody arrives at school, Pacy is lined up in the cafeteria as usual for lunch. The lunch lady initially refuses to serve Pacy because she thinks she’s just served her. That’s when Pacy discovers to her great delight that she’s no longer the only Asian around. If now you’re thinking instead that this is another book about prejudice, you’d be wrong. That is not to say she doesn’t sometimes encounter racism, as when she attends a Taiwanese-American Camp (TAC), the Asian girls call her “Twinkie” because Pacy can’t speak Chinese and so has been in their words “Americanized”. Mostly though, Year of the Dog is a fun mix of small and big moments in Pacy’s life with her family and friends. For example, upon the birth of their cousin Albert, Pacy and her two sisters (Lissy and Ki-ki) color eggs red. Older sister Lissy tells Pacy that not all Chinese babies get Red Egg parties: “You didn’t.” When Pacy asks why, Lissy says it’s probably because Pacy was a sick baby. When younger sister Ki-Ki explains that Pacy got sick from ammonia, the two try to rid the house of it—much to the amusement of Lissy. Another day, after Melody and Pacy become best friends, the two girls stuff themselves with children’s chewable vitamins because Melody’s family keeps only healthy food in the house. Then there is the school book contest. One day the librarian comes to their art class and announces a book contest, wherein the winning entry is to be published. Pacy discovers “herself” through the book contest: She decides to make books when she grows up!

THE YEAR OF THE RAT

In The Year of the Rat, one of the changes that Pacy faces is saying good-bye to Melody, whose family moves from New York to California. Yes, I know this can be a cliché. By removing a friend from the picture, an author is left with the ability to introduce new friends and hence new adventures. Remember, though, Grace Lin’s books are semi-autobiographical; Melody’s family is based on a real situation, which Lin weaves into her sweet and charming tale of family and friendship. In drawing upon her Asian heritage, she also ensures that her tales are unique. For example, one day the family heads off to Albany to visit Pacy’s cousin Max who is turning one. Presents are opened, platters of food are served, and then Uncle Clifford brings out the destiny plate. Each item placed on the plate symbolizes a different job. Whichever one Max picks is thought represent the job he will one day hold. True to what you might expect from a toddler, Max just wants to eat his cake. Maybe he’ll be a baker? One of my favorite and bittersweet moments in the book occurs when Pacy helps Melody pack. Melody is told she can’t take all her books with her and so must give half to Pacy. The girls struggle to pick who will get which books, until they hit upon a compromise. After Pacy is done with with a book, she’ll mail it back to Melody. In the aftermath of this plan, a funny incident happens that I’ll leave to you to find. As with The Year of the Dog, not everything is perky and light. Pacy continues to struggle to find balance in her mixed identity as American and Chinese, especially when her peers try to match her with a new Asian boy at school solely based on their common ethnic background. After being cautioned that writers and artists are typically poor, she also begins to explore the wisdom of her career choice.

DUMPLING DAYS

If you think that “dumplings can brighten your day” is lame for a theme, you might be right. For several chapters of Dumpling Days, I found myself wondering if it would be all about new sights, new food, and new relatives. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is kind of like being awestruck by a movie simply because of its special effects. At some point, the glitter loses its sparkle. So as much as Lin made me desire to see China, and especially sample its delectable foods, I reached a point where I wanted Dumpling Days to be about something more than just Pacy’s trip to China. Eventually, a theme did emerge: identity. While in China, Pacy is introduced to Ghost Month. During this month, Chinese people make food or burn special money for ghosts to have in the spirit world. Throughout Pacy’s visit in China she encounters those who dislike her because she can’t speak Chinese and so compares herself to the forgotten or lost ghosts. Pacy comes to eventually realize that even her parents and relatives struggle with their identity or “ghosts” too. For example, Pacy’s mom (who grew up in China) feels sad after her purse is stolen—because pickpockets normally only target outsiders. Not everything in Dumping Days is gloomy and serious. There are plenty of fun moments such as when Uncle Clifford takes the sisters for a ride on his scooter. My favorite is when the girls are feeling cranky from jet lag, but perk up when they hear a chiming, jolly song which they mistake for the sound of the ice-cream truck. In China, the garbage truck plays music so that everyone knows when to throw out their garbage. Yet for all the festive and silly episodes in Dumpling Days, it remains the most reflective of Lin’s three semi-autobiographical books.

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON

Cover of "Where the Mountain Meets the Mo...

Cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, and Dumpling Days are all about a normal family without princesses or magic. In contrast, Lin’s Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore. In the tradition of journey stories, this is about Minli, who goes on a trip to seek a solution to a problem. Her family work hard in the fields but are still poor. Minli seeks the Man of the Moon to ask how the family can change their fortune. As in The Wizard of Oz, Minli meets characters along the way who also need help from the Man of the Moon. Unlike in The Wizard of Oz, only one travels with her: a dragon who can’t fly. In what seems almost too conveniently like The Wizard of Oz, these two comrades encounter evil monkeys when trying to cross the woods to their destination. Other dangers are more original to Lin such as a poisonous tiger. I recognized two motifs from folklore: the disguised king and sacrificed children. Others such as the guardians of the city, the borrowed line, and the fruitless mountain may or may not be derived from Chinese tales with which I am less familiar. In any event, Lin has seamlessly blended various aspects of folklore into one beautiful story. Readers familiar with Lin’s aforementioned chapter books will appreciate that most chapters also contain a mini-story. Many of these are told by Minli’s father; others are told by those whom Minli meets on her way to find the Man of the Moon.  What makes Lin’s books so special are their themes of family, friendship, love, and heritage. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has another theme, which is found in the answer to Minli’s question about how her family can change their fortune. I’ll leave it for you to discover.

My rating? Bag them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

This past October, I heard an author speak at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival who inspired me so much that I bought all three of her published juvenile books. When I returned home that Saturday, I felt eager to read my new purchases but had to wait. I already had a pile of other books to review. When I decided recently to review Grace Lin’s books, her publisher Little Brown Books for Young Readers graciously sent me an Advanced Reader Copy of her fourth juvenile book.

So, it’s with great delight that this weekend, I’ll finally feature a review of Grace Lin’s four juvenile fiction books: The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days, and the Newbery Honor Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Although I have already talked to Grace Lin in-person, I’ll also post an interview here at Allison’s Book Bag.

Save the dates: December 17-18!

What’s on your desk? If you check out Grace Lin’s blog, you’ll find she posts a few regular features such as On My Desk Monday. One of her books which I’ll review is Dumpling Days, a copy of which Lin had on her desk one Monday earlier this June. This third installment in her Pacy books is due to be released this upcoming January and so I feel myself privileged to also own an Advanced Reader Copy. If you were to see my desk this particular Monday, you’d find a stack of Grace Lin’s juvenile fiction and a few pages of notes about them.

What do you see on the way to the store? Grace Lin also posts a regular feature called On The Way To The Store. Given that I drive most everywhere, I sadly don’t often see much besides traffic and harried pedestrians. Still, I have managed to spot three new restaurants on my way to work. Years ago, a Vietnamese restaurant called The Green Papaya closed down. One day on the way to my teaching job, I saw it had opened up in a new location. My husband and I love their spring rolls! Also, on my way to school, I have seen an African restaurant. My husband and I recently tried out its food. Spicy is not my favorite adjective. 🙂 We still need to check out another restaurant: Mexicali Bullfrog. With a name like that, how can we resist?

Lin’s Family

According to Grace Lin, she didn’t know her “real” name until she attended school. When her first-grade teacher asked for her name, Grace replied, “Pacy Lin!” The teacher looked on her roster and replied, “Your real name is Grace.” After years of her whole family, calling her Pacy, she turned into Grace and has been Grace ever since.

Cover of

Cover of The Year of the Dog

Lin features her family often in her three semi-autobiographical chapter books about Pacy: The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days. Members of her family includes:

  • Grace’s Mom:Her parents named her Lin-Lin. Then she married Grace’s dad, Jer-shang Lin. So now her name is

    Lin-Lin Lin. Most people don’t believe her. When she signed report cards, her children also had a hard time convincing the grade school teachers that was her real name. Once a store wouldn’t accept her check, because they didn’t believe it was her real name.

  • Grace’s Dad: He likes to play golf and to watch professional golfers on TV. Grace’s father apparently falls asleep in his easy-chair every time he watches a live broadcast of golf. Yet whenever someone turns off the TV while he is snoring in front of a golf game, he suddenly wakes up and says, “I was watching that!”
  • Grace’s Older Sister: When Grace was a baby, Lissy was jealous of her. One day, their parents took the kids to visit their aunt. After Grace fell asleep, her mother tucked her into one of the bedrooms and then left to rejoin the rest of the family. Soon she heard Grace crying. She went to the bedroom and found it locked, but heard Lissy laughing and Grace crying even louder. By this time, everyone else was crowding around the bedroom door to see what the commotion was about. Grace’s mother looked through the keyhole and saw Lissy jiggling the bed so that Grace was bouncing. The louder the baby cried, the louder she laughed. The entire family laughs about this now.
  • Grace’s Younger Sister: Before Ki-Ki was born, Grace’s parents sat Lissy and Grace down and told them there was going to be a new baby in the family. The next day the entire family, including the grandparents, sat in the living room trying to find a name for the new baby. There were piles of books all over the floor. Grace couldn’t read very well so she would just point out random words like radio and building and ask if they were good names.
  • Grace’s Grandfather: Her grandparents once went on a bus tour of Europe with one hundred other Asians. The tour stopped at an Italian village where a flower vendor approached, confident of selling many roses. Unfortunately for the vendor, Grace’s grandfather was the only person in the group willing to part with his money for a pretty flower. He bought his wife a red rose from the vendor.
  • Grace’s Grandmother: When Grace’s mother was a little girl, her mother (Grace’s grandmother) wanted her to learn how to play the piano. The family didn’t have enough money to buy a piano, but they did have enough to pay for lessons. So her grandmother took a long sheet of paper and drew all the keys of the piano on it. Grace’s mother practiced on that paper piano for years.

For other stories about her family and friends, visit Grace Lin’s blog or read her three semi-autobiographical chapter books: The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days.

Lin’s Favorite Bookstore

Did you grow up with a bookstore in your town? What are your favorite bookstore memories?

For Grace Lin, The Curious George Bookstore in Massachusetts changed her life. In the beginning of her children’s book career, when she didn’t even know if she would be able to make a livelihood from being an author, she was a bookseller at the Curious George bookstore. She encountered children’s books on a daily basis and developed a feeling for what makes a good book. While working there, she also met her first husband Robert who died of cancer in 1997.

Image representing Barnes & Noble as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

As for me, I don’t know if any one bookstore changed me life. Yet during my childhood, my dad and I regularly visited our local religious book store. I still remember many of the series books that I encountered there. A general bookstore came to our local mall during my young adult years. I still frequent it to regional fiction. Now that I live in a bigger town, secondhand bookstores are my haunts. When blessed with a gift card, I also love to explore the aisles of Barnes&Noble. Long live bookstores!

Lin’s Books

The Year of the Dog began as a sequel to Grace Lin’s popular picture book The Ugly Vegetables. However, as Lin wrote the intended sequel, it became apparent the book would not fit in a picture book format. There were so many memories, so many family stories that insisted on being written, they just couldn’t be contained in thirty-two pages. Finally, Lin let it become a full-length novel: The Year of the Dog!

Wonder how much of if it is true? Read Grace Lin’s Behind the Story.

Want to know even more about The Year of the Dog? Check out these student book trailers:

Besides writing three semi-autobiographical books, Grace Lin also wrote the Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Here, she talks about this fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore:

Lin plans on writing two companion books. They will not be sequels, in that they won’t continue the main character Minli’s story, but they will be similar and might include a crossover character.

Cover of "Where the Mountain Meets the Mo...
Cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

If you have been following Allison’s Book Bag over the past year, you’ll know that I have started to broaden my readings to include fiction by authors of different ethnicities and countries. Grace Lin’s parents are originally from Taiwan, but she grew up here in the United States. Lin writes about the struggles she faced over this dual identity in her three semi-autobiographical books: The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days. After she embraced her Asian background as an adult, she began writing books which reflected that heritage. Even her Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was inspired by Chinese folklore.

Lin’s Blog
Lin’s blog also features a huge number of resources about Chinese culture. For example, Lin has created:

All of these can be accessed through the main menu on Lin’s blog.

By exploring her blog, you can also posts about how to make these Chinese crafts and foods:

You can also find out about these Chinese festivities:

English: The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on t...

Image via Wikipedia

Every Sunday, she features a Chinese word.

How does Lin feel about being a multicultural author? More than once she has blogged about this label:


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