Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordcraft -- The moon and Chinese fairytales

She’s the only Asian girl (except for her sisters) in the entire school until -- another Asian girl arrives who becomes her best friend.

Although author/illustrator Grace Lin changed the name of her best friend Alvina for her middle-grade novel, The Year of the Dog, several of her books mirror her life and the lives of her family of Taiwan immigrants, she told the audience last Saturday at the Allen Public Library.

Except, that is, when the books reflect the larger Chinese culture she rebelled against as a child. Fortunately, her wise mother left books of Chinese fairy tales on the shelves. And for an avid young reader, the stories proved irresistible, as Ms. Lin notes in the afterword to her take on tradition, her Newbery Honor winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the tale of young Minli’s journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s fate.

Ms. Lin’s own visits to Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan also inspired her art for both Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and her current work-in-progress, Starry River of the Sky, she said, illustrating her talk with photographs of locations transformed into fantasy paintings.

Despite the day’s pouring rain, the audience was filled with children, who delighted in hearing the stories of their birth year animals in the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese calendar. (Ms. Lin was born in a tiger year, whose children are brave and strong, but prone to be impulsive, she told them wryly.)

Her journey as a writer and artist may have been born from a sudden decision, as she said in response to a question from a youngster in the audience about why she decided to write children’s books. But it wasn’t a random impulse.

When she was in the sixth grade, a teacher told her about a school writing contest whose first prize was publication. “I did not win first place,” she said. “But I did win a thousand dollars, and that sealed the deal for me.”

After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, she published her first book, The Ugly Vegetables, in 1999 and hasn’t stopped since.

Her appearance was the latest in the Second Saturday Speaker Series sponsored by The Friends of the Allen Public Library (Allen, Texas), Bach to Books and Storyopolis Entertainment. For more about library events, see

And see and hear Ms. Lin read an excerpt from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon on the Today show at

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