Collecting Newbery books is probably one of the nerdiest things that my mom and I do. Don’t worry we are not on a quest for every single title, just all winners and whichever honors strike our fancy. Obviously this one struck my fancy. Shiny things tend to do that.
Which brings us to point number 1: this book is gorgeous. I mean the cover can give you an idea but each chapter also begins with a solid colored vignette. There are also beautiful full color illustrations that accompany some of the stories within the story. The stories within also have headers and a distinct font so that the reader knows they are leaving Minli behind.
Minli leaves in a poor village and though her father tells wonderful stories she knows that her mother is unhappy with the fortune in life. So she leaves to ask the Old Man of the Moon how to change their fortune. Her parents worry of course. In the end the journey is the thing, though the end isn’t too bad either.
The sense of the folktale stays strong throughout. The phrasing and rhythms and descriptions make a solid stylistic choice. I was a little surprised when we started going back to check on her parents, but actually now that I’m done I think it is one the coolest things that this book does. You don’t forget about the people left behind. They have an important story too.
It seems like it would probably be accessible to younger readers more than a lot of Newbery chosen books. It would make an excellent read aloud. Yet the richness of it makes it so that it does not feel limited. I like that Grace Lin took the sense of the stories she read as a child and wove them with her own imagination because it creates something that feels classic, but is accessible to the modern child. It doesn’t have to strain to feel like a folk talk, because it is one, just of her own making.
Newbery Honor 2010