Saturday, January 26, 2013
Starry River of the Sky, written by Grace Lin. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2012. $19.99 ages 9 and up
An angry runaway, a moaning night sky, the disappearance of the moon, a desolate flat plain, magic toads, a peculiar old man, an elegant and well-versed woman of mystery...all conspire to captivate and enthrall readers. It's mystery, mixed with some mayhem and a chance for a young angry boy to come to grips with his past and look to the future with a clearer vision. This is a perfect book for reading aloud in any intermediate classroom!
When Rendi arrives in the Village of Clear Sky, he is hiding out in a wine merchant's cart, hoping to remain concealed until they come to a big city where he can find a new life. It is not to be. Once discovered, he is dumped out and then hired to be a chore boy by Master Chao, an inn owner in the small and very isolated village. His days are filled with drudgery and with being constantly bothered by the innkeeper's daughter, Peiyi. As the days pass, he becomes mystified by some of the events that seem not to bother anyone else. What is the constant wailing at night? Is he the only one who hears it? Where has Peiyi's brother gone? Why can't Mr. Shan tell the difference between toads and rabbits? There are endless questions, and no obvious answers.
His life begins to change with the arrival of the mysterious Madame Chang, a gifted storyteller, whose tales begin to make sense of Rendi's life. She encourages him to tell his own stories. In doing so, he reveals much about the life that led him to where he is now. He also recognizes that there is a connection with the stories that Madame Chang is sharing with her audience. As he becomes more and more attached to the villagers, his concern for them grows and much of his anger dissipates.
Thinking that he has a solution to the puzzle of the disappearing mountain and the moonless sky, he sets out to find answers to his many questions. I love that this heroic fantasy has adapted Chinese folktales within it, and that they offer clues to its central mysteries. If you want to share fine writing, wonderfully drawn characters and adventure, this is the book for you!
While Grace Lin calls this a companion story to her earlier, much lauded Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), I liked that she made some real connections between the two and I think that attentive readers will also be intrigued. If you have read it with your family, or have students who have read this first book, it will take no convincing to get them reading another book by a truly accomplished storyteller and artist.