Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review #40: THE MOON LADY by Amy Tan; illustrated by Gretchen Schields

illustrated by Gretchen Schields

Pub. Date: November 1995
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Format: Paperback, 32pp
Age Range: 6 to 9
ISBN-13: 9780689806162
ISBN: 0689806167
Edition Description: Reprint

Description (from the publisher):
A magical night when secret wishes can come true.
On a rainy afternoon, three sisters wish for the rain to stop, wish they could play in the puddles, wish for something, anything, to do. So Ying-Ying, their grandmother, tells them a tale from long ago. On the night of the Moon Festival, when Ying-ying was a little girl, she encountered the Moon Lady, who grants the secret wishes of those who ask, and learned from her that the best wishes are those you can make come true yourself. This haunting tale, adapted from Amy Tan's best-seller The Joy Luck Club and enhanced by Gretchen Schields's rich, meticulously detailed art, is a book for all to treasure.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

My Thoughts:  THE MOON LADY by Amy Tan is a sophisticated story of a young girl's maturation woven around an actual character from Chinese folklore. Tan originally told a version of this story in her novel, THE JOY LUCK CLUB. It's been years since I read that novel (definitely in line for re-read), and I don't specifically recall this story from that source. My review is based solely on this picture book.

In this book, richly illustrated by Gretchen Schields, a grandmother recounts an incident from her childhood to her three restless granddaughters.  On the day her family travels to Tai Lake to celebrate the Moon Festival, 7-year-old Ying-ying is so excited she can barely control herself. She can't understand why everyone else isn't as excited as she or as eager to be on their way. Like most children her age, she is by turns sulky and sweet, selfish and loving, distracted and introspective -- basically, naughty and nice. Throughout the day, these aspects of her personality lead her into many adventures, some quite dangerous and scary. Everything culminates with Ying-ying's encounter with the Moon Lady who, on this one special day of the year, has the power to fulfill a secret wish. But what is it that Ying-ying desires most?

I enjoyed this story quite a bit. I loved how the language easily transported me to another place and time, another way of describing the world: ". . . the fifteenth day of the eighth moon."  You can't read those words and think you are in modern day America. I loved Ying-ying's spirit and her curiosity, her sense of wonder of the world.  There is a lovely scene where she plays with her shadow and speaks of it as though it is a little friend.

There are also darker elements to this tale, so that even though the story is presented in picture book format, I think it is more appropriate for older children and adults. One scene describes a toothless old woman gutting eels for making soup. When Ying-ying accidently gets some of the blood on her clothes, she naively thinks she can hide the stains by smearing even more blood all over her outfit. Fortunately, in the accompanying illustration, the blood is more magenta in color as opposed to red so that it's not so frightening to look at! Subsequently, Ying-ying is separated from her family. The story enters into a dreamlike phase where Ying-ying is rescued and returned to her family, only to have them deny her because they don't believe she is lost. Ying-ying actually sees her doppleganger on the boat with her family. And then there is the encounter with the Moon Lady herself . . .

Of course the story ends on a happy note - Ying-ying is obviously reunited with her family as she is telling this story to her granddaughters. I read this book to my 9-year-old nephew who has a fascination with Asian cultures. The moral and messages were lost on him - it is a rather convoluted tale. He enjoyed certain passages and was very interested in the detailed illustrations.

I enjoyed this book but can see that it would not be to everyone's taste. As a fable, it is more apt to appeal to adults. For sheer narrative, some children will enjoy the adventuresome nature of the story; I think others will get bogged down by the twists and turns. I'd recommend THE MOON LADY to adults and older children who are interested in Chinese culture and folktales.

About the author (from the publisher):
With her acclaimed 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club and its successors, Amy Tan succeeded in revealing the Chinese-American sensibility to readers in unprecedented numbers. In mystical, winding prose, she draws the boundaries and commonalities between generations of women who are related, but born worlds apart.

I read this book for the Middle Grade Book Challenge hosted by
Linda Ellen at Bambi Reads. Despite its picture book format, I think it qualifies because of the sophisticated language and story strucuture.

My review copy came from the Portsmouth Free Public Library, and I read this as part of the 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.


itsJUSTme-wendy said...

This does sound like a really good book. Can you believe it - I have not read anything by Amy Tan! I think I must be the only one.

Great review.

Lisa said...

I've never heard of this one. In fact, until just a few minutes before I opened this, I didn't even know that Tan had written books for young people. In a strange coincidence, I just saw her on t.v. in an ad for PBS talking about her books, including a different children's book.

bermudaonion said...

I had no idea Amy Tan has written a children's book! I'm sure it's wonderful.

Zibilee said...

I am right there with Bermudaonion, I had no idea that Tan had written a children's book! I have read almost everything she has written, and consider he a favorite author, so although this a book for children, I think I am going to have to add it to my collection! Thanks for the heads up on this one, and great review!

Wanda said...

Haven't heard of this one and it sounds like something both my daughters would enjoy. I'll have to check the library for it, thanks for a great review!