Credit: Alexandre Ferron. Courtesy gracelin.com.
“Bringing fortune to our house! Making Fruitless Mountain bloom! You’re always wishing to do impossible things! Stop believing stories and stop wasting your time.”
―Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Despite her mother’s disapproval of stories and dreaming, Minli gathers her courage, her resourcefulness, and her openness to new people and places, to take a remarkable journey to accomplish the impossible. This book, a celebration of the importance of imagination and story, introduces upper elementary students to Chinese culture and tradition. It blends an adventure narrative with a female hero, a collection of traditional and invented folktales, and an array of Chinese-style paintings and woodcuts into an appealing and challenging reading experience.
After a brief discussion of types of challenges—physical, emotional, economic, etc.—students read the entire book, focusing on the main narrative. They keep journals to record the challenges Minli faced, and how she met the challenges. They identify the friends and mentors who helped her, and the character traits that led to her success.
In the first part of the lesson, students read each of the embedded folktales as they cover the main narrative. The second part of the lesson has students return to the book to explore how the folktales enhance Minli’s story. After learning about the concept of the frame story, pairs of students take one of the folktales to analyze and then illustrate a key scene from it. As an optional activity, they may make a bulletin board or wall display that shows the embedded stories within the frame of the main narrative. In the final activity and summative assessment, students plan and then write a personal narrative about a challenge they have overcome, using vivid descriptions of persons and places
Students will be able to:
Grade Level Standards
Day 2. Optional Activity Grade Level Standard
The child of immigrants from Taiwan, Grace Lin was born in the United States in 1974 and grew up in New York State. For years, she and her siblings were the only Asian American children in her school and she was the only one in her class. Thus she spent much of her childhood trying to ignore her Asian heritage in order to fit in better with her peers. In a poignant essay entitled “Why Couldn’t Snow White Be Chinese?” Lin discusses her sense of otherness and states that as a child, she found her dual identity to be a burden.
Trying to come to terms with her own identity, she searched for and treasured books that featured Asian American characters, even when their portrayal was oversimplified or stereotyped. “Imagine how much more those books would have meant to me,” she wrote later, “if they had been books of substance, if they had reflected my life with more accuracy and heart, addressed concerns and struggles and triumphs that really affected me.” She also loved the books of Chinese folktales that her mother gave her, in spite of their being too simply told.
After high school, Lin attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned a BFA in illustration. She supported herself designing for a party company, “two years contributing to the world’s landfills” as she puts it, until her first book was published. Since then, she has traveled to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, learning more about her own heritage. Those eye-opening visits made the folk tales and fairy tales her mother had shared with her as a child seem more alive. She has written over a dozen books, many of them using Asian American child characters, in an effort to help Asian American children appreciate their heritage and to create the kind of books she wished she had been able to read when she was growing up.
At the end of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and in her essays, Lin shares photos and drawings and discusses how she came to use and adapt elements of Chinese culture in her stories. A Newbery Honor book in 2010, this novel moves on from the ordinary lives of Asian Americans in her other books to a fantastical adventure in a timeless, traditional China. The protagonist Minli, like one of Joseph Campbell’s archetypal heroes, leaves her home, sets out on a quest, has to pass through many crucial tests to reach her goal, and returns to her village bringing back the aid that the villagers and her family need. She accomplishes her tasks, undertaken with the help of a talking dragon, by showing generosity, courage and integrity. Students reading the book will not only share the adventure, but will learn much about traditional values in Chinese culture.
Sources for biographical information:
This first activity introduces the book and requires students to read it and keep a journal. The goal of this activity is to have students engage with the text through a series of focused questions listed by chapter and page in Worksheet 1. Keeping a Reading Journal. The questions focus exclusively on the “frame story” of Minli’s travels, giving students first-hand experience with frame story analysis.
Depending on the ability level of the class and the time available, teachers may assign the book for independent reading at home; have students read independently or in reading groups in class as you work with individuals; have students read it aloud in class; or use a combination of these methods. The journal topics generally cover a group of chapters; teachers may assign them all at the beginning or assign individual topics as appropriate.
Using a classroom map, show students the location of China and ask them what they know about it. (Most students will say it is very big and has a huge population; a few may be able to bring up current events involving China.) Explain that the class is going to read a book about a young Chinese girl who had many challenge to overcome.
Write the word “challenge” on the board and ask students to define it. (Something that takes great physical or mental effort to do successfully) Show students photos of types of challenges (see Preparation and Resources) and discuss the types of challenges shown. With each photo, ask students to identify what is happening in the picture, what kind of challenge is presented, and what kinds of skills or abilities the subjects need to be successful. Ask students to think of and share other types of challenges they have seen or experienced.
Distribute copies of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Give students a few minutes to survey the book and look at the pictures. Tell students about Grace Lin, using information from the Background section. [Optional activity: Show them the first 1:40 minutes of Al Roker’s interview with Grace Lin in which she covers much of the same material. See Preparation and Resources.)]
Tell students that they are going to read the book and keep a reading journal; explain how you would like them to proceed, i.e., how many pages or chapters to read and which journal questions to answer. Give them copies of Worksheet 1 or assign questions from the worksheet as the class progresses.
Have students read with the method and at the pace you find best for your class. Before each set of chapters, distribute the questions that students should answer and make sure that they understand what they are looking for. If the boys in the class seem likely to find it difficult to identify with a female protagonist, suggest that they imagine a twin brother accompanying her on her journey.
After each assignment, review the journal questions in a class discussion or individual reading group discussions. (The first column of Teacher Resource: Plot Outline provides a summary for the suggested answers. This outline can serve as a reference for the teacher for the entire lesson.)
When students have finished reading the book, hold a Socratic seminar or other type of discussion.
Here are some questions to extend students' understanding of the novel.
Be sure to include evidence from the text in their answers.
In this activity, students return to the novel to analyze the folktale embedded within it. They learn the new concept of a “frame story” and explore how the embedded stories enrich and amplify and reflect the main story.
Explain to students that they have been working mostly with the story of Minli and her quest, and that now they are going to look at the other stories that are woven into the main story. Show students a collage picture frame with multiple photos or draw one on the board. Tell them the novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is like the picture frame, with one main frame story holding many other stories within it. Write the definition of a frame story on the board (a main story which has other stories contained within it) and have them copy the definition in their notebooks.
Distribute copies of Worksheet 2. Frame Stories in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Go over the worksheet to be sure that students understand it. (Teacher Resource: Plot Outline can serve as suggested answers.)
If you wish, divide students into pairs. Give each student or pair a story to work with from the following list or let them choose one themselves, being sure that no two are working on the same story. (Teachers do not have to assign all the stories.)
Give students time to reread and analyze their stories and fill in the results on Worksheet 2 as you circulate to answer questions and give assistance.
Give students a clean copy of Worksheet 2 and tell them that their classmates will be reading their work. Give them time to legibly recopy (and edit!) their work. Collect the second worksheets for assessment purposes when they have finished.
Assess the second copy of Worksheet 2 for completeness, accuracy in recalling details of the story, and mechanics of writing.
Have students write a paragraph or more using the following prompt:
Your values are your principles, the things that you hold to be important in life. You may value money, friends, family or ideals like honesty, generosity, and faith. As you look at the embedded folk tales in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, what are three values that seem to be important? Explain what you mean by each value and show how it is illustrated in one of the embedded folk tales. Be sure to use evidence from the story to support your ideas.
Click here for a PDF outlining an optional second activity.
When the students come to class, give them time to share their sentences from the pre-activity in small groups. Ask them to tell the groups how they felt after dealing with this challenge.
Lead a class discussion about the differences between the sentence on the board and the sentence in the novel. Encourage students to consider why Grace Lin chose those particular words to describe the mountain.
Ask students to choose a page at random and read aloud the most vivid sentence they can find to the class. What words do you think make the description colorful? What words bring it to life?
Distribute Worksheet 3 and go over the directions with the students. Work on the first sentence together. Write “The house was on the hill” on the board. Under “house” have students brainstorm as many words as they can for house: mansion, shack, apartment, rancher, hut, etc. Then do the same for “high ground”: mountain, hill, crag, and slope. Finally, see if students can come up with a vivid verb to replace “was”: sat, clung, perched, etc.
This is a good time to show students how to use a print or online thesaurus, but remind them only to use words that they are comfortable with; a “fancy” word is not necessarily the best word.
Have students complete the worksheet. When they have finished, have them compare the results with a partner to see what different effects they get when they use vivid language. Then ask them to share their best sentence with the class. For number 4, you could even ask students to walk across the classroom to act out the sentence as they rewrote it.
Rewrite one of the following passages to make it more vivid, using specific language and concrete details.
One day I thought I would surprise my friends. I brought my pet into school. We walked down the hall and into the classroom. My teacher said she was really surprised and she told me how she felt about my pet. The principal told me that was not a good idea.
I went down to the cellar the other day. The cellar was dark and kind of creepy. There were a lot of things down there. I was glad to see a few things from when I was younger and I started to play with them. Then I dropped something and it made a loud noise. My father came down the stairs and asked what I was doing down there.
Students plan and then write a personal narrative about a challenge they have overcome using vivid descriptions of persons and places. Writing the narrative of their own challenge gives students a chance to reflect on the themes (courage, persistence, imagination, resourcefulness) of the Lin novel from the first two lessons as they see them enacted in their own experience.
Before students begin their draft remind them in the real world it is not a good idea for children to leave home to confront evil and danger. Emphasize that Minli’s story is a fantasy; in the real world, it is dangerous for children to run away from home, and naturally it is impossible for them to scale a ladder to the moon. Still, real life faces everyone with difficult challenges that require courage and ingenuity.
As they work, hold writing conferences with individual students in need of assistance.
After students have completed the first draft of their story, conduct a peer-editing session in your usual manner (or a self-editing session if you think any of the stories cover sensitive material that the students would be uncomfortable sharing). You may use Worksheet 4: Narrative Rubric provided for both student self-assessment and your own final assessment.
Questions to ask during the editing process:
3-4 class periods