Journey into Chinese Folktales to Discover Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

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Moon over cumulus clouds. Photo, Fir0002, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Moon over cumulus clouds. Photo, Fir0002, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The roundest moon can be seen in the autumn. It is time for reunions. I wish you a happy Mid-Autumn Day and a wonderful life. —Chinese greeting for mid-autumn Moon Festival

The moon figures large in the folklore of China. Legend has it that a jade rabbit lives on the moon and spends its time manufacturing elixirs of immortality while serving as a companion to Chang’e, the Moon goddess. The moon is so important in the Chinese cultural tradition that it even rates its own annual festival!

For more than 1,000 years, the mid-autumn Moon Festival has been held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar (which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar). It is a time set aside for families to share the traditional mooncakes, enjoy the bounty of the summer harvest, and reflect upon the fullness of the moon.

The Moon Festival is among the most popular holidays in Asia and ranks alongside the lunar New Year Festival in cultural significance. Though a distinctly Asian holiday, it has similarities to Thanksgiving and, and as the Chinese people are usually given a three-day holiday around this time of year, it also resembles American Labor Day.

A Common Core Exemplar

New EDSITEment lesson Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Common Core Exemplar serves as a close reading of the multicultural elementary school novel by Grace Lin. In this adventure story, and in the Chinese folktales woven throughout it, the moon itself is a character to be reckoned with and respected.

This CCSS exemplar specifically targets students in grades 4–5, but as a beautifully written fable, it appeals to readers of all ages. The extraordinary journey made by the main character, a young girl named Minli, is filled with archetypal trials and boasts a cast of magical characters reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz

Minli leaves her parents’ hut in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain to seek out the Old Man of the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She faces many challenges and befriends many characters along the way, including a dragon who acts as a chauffeur and benevolent guide in her search for the ultimate answer to how to find happiness. Adapted Chinese folktales are interspersed throughout the novel along with Lin’s beautiful color illustrations.

Common Core Activities

A number of engaging activities are aligned to the Common Core State Standards in this lesson, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Common Core Exemplar.

Starting with Activity 1, students are asked to keep a reading journal to assist them in their close reading and analysis. Worksheet 1 offers students structure to analyze different characters’ responses to challenges they encounter in the story. Follow-up questions are provided to help students uncover various themes that surface in this reading, such as: What is the secret of happiness? How does one find contentment? What is true friendship? What are the benefits of storytelling? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Students return to the novel in Activity 2 as they are introduced to the new concept of a “frame story.” In this activity, they analyze the traditional Chinese folktales Grace Lin embedded within the narrative to discover how they enrich, amplify, and reflect the main story. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.5 Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.

An optional creative activity is offered to supplement Activity 2. In this activity, students illustrate key scenes from the novel, then display them by hanging them on a paper “gallery” wall. Students present their pictures and explain why those scenes are important. Lengths of red yarn are tacked onto one end of their pictures and the other end to a part of the story that it reflects. The “gallery” then becomes a network of red lines. This red thread appears in the story as a symbolic device to express the Chinese notion of fate and show how different characters’ lives are magically intertwined. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon takes readers on a journey all the way up to the moon! Embarking on this wondrous adventure gives students exposure to values in the Chinese cultural tradition and an opportunity to consider how to navigate challenges in their own lives.

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