Yesterday I added my post from last week on “I Kissed the Baby” to the Kid Lit Blog Hop at Mother Daughter Book Reviews. Please hop over there and take a look at all the other great posts that are up!
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
Lin, whose Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a Newbury Honor Book, returns to the mystical China of long-ago with Starry River of the Sky. It features entirely different characters, but the same lovely story-telling method where the narrative includes the characters telling lots of stories, presented as fictional, but which later affect the story. As our story begins, a young boy named Rendi has run away from home and gets left at the inn in the Village of Clear Sky, far away from anywhere else. Although he’s less than thrilled by the idea, Rendi takes a job as the inn’s chore boy to earn his keep, much to the distress of the innkeeper’s daughter, Peiyi, just a little younger than Rendi. She’s upset both at having to put up with the unfriendly boy and at her beloved older brother’s absence, which makes a chore boy necessary in the first place. While Rendi learns to do chores, his sleep is disturbed every night by a deep moaning that he discovers no one else can hear. Then, the beautiful Madame Chang comes to stay at the inn. She starts telling stories every evening, and is able to draw Rendi out enough to tell some stories of his own. Other interesting characters include the sometimes confused, sometimes wise and sharp old man Mr. Shan, who comes to the inn for lunch every day, and the widow and her daughter on the other side of the inn’s fence. Peiyi and the daughter are secret friends despite their parents’ long-ago feud. There are themes of learning and forgiveness woven through the beautiful folk tales, as well as recurring characters: Magistrate Tiger, the wise old sage who lives on the mountain, the moon lady, and a man with the character for “strong” on his forehead, who shows up as both man and tiger in various roles in different stories. It’s hard to capture how well the various strands weave together, but this is close to perfection as one could hope for.
The lyrical language and the folk tales bring this together with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but it is also different. You’ll have noticed, of course, that we have a grouchy boy instead of a cheerful girl for our main character. Where her first book was filled with mythical characters, here everyone is an ordinary person, at least at first glance. There’s also the use of two different Basic Plots: the Person Goes on a Journey plot vs. A Stranger Comes to Town. Lin says in her interviews that the first book was about the moon and this second one about the mountain, though I think the titles are a bit confusing for this purpose. I’d listened to the previous book with my son, which adds the personality of voice but takes away the physical pleasure of the book – I had no idea that there were illustrations! The typography switched to a lovely decorative typeface for the stories, delightful. I most especially loved Lin’s saturated paintings, so reminiscent of the glossy color plate illustrations in classic books. My son enjoyed the first book (perhaps not quite so much as I did), and I very much look forward to sharing this with him as well. The book is ideal for middle grade students, but anyone who enjoys traditional tales will love it as well.
I just hopped over to Grace Lin’s blog to find out the stops on her blog tour, and discovered that she’s having a special where you can order signed books from her local book store. Do I regret taking everything but the harp off my wish list? I will make sure that somebody gets this for Christmas, even if it’s not me. Anyway, there was a blog tour when the book first came out in October. There are lovely interviews with her at all of these blogs: