Dear Aunt Debbie,
Last month, you sent us Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, and ended your post wanting to know what we'd think of it. The verdict is in: Eleanor LOVED it, perhaps more than any other chapter book we've read in a few months. We read it very quickly, sneaking in a chapter as part of our morning reading along with a picture book for Isabel, and another chapter or two at night. (There were enough references to animals, and drawings by Lin at the beginnings of chapters, to keep Isabel somewhat engaged.)
What worked so well about this book? Part of it is the structure Lin uses in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as well: stories within stories. The stories in Starry River offered Eleanor multiple opportunities to piece together elements of plot by herself in ways she clearly found satisfying.
At the beginning of the book, the protagonist, Rendi, is presented as a mystery. We know he's on the run, but don't know where he's going or what he's running from. He's hostile and uncommunicative, but appealing -- it's clear he's upset by something real. The mysterious guest at the inn, Madame Chang, tells stories based on Chinese mythology, including the story of WangYi and his wife, who becomes the Moon Lady. She gets Rendi to agree to tell stories in return, and when he does, it becomes immediately clear that he's telling the true story of his own father.
Or I should say: it becomes immediately clear to an adult reader. To a five-year-old, it becomes interesting, then exciting, then thrilling to spot the connections and figure out the truth. The stories invite a gentle spirit of detective work, and wind together in a satisfying puzzle-like way. When we finished, Eleanor asked immediately if we could read it again soon. Thank you!