WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER & other books by Grace Lin
I was fortunate to hear Grace Lin give the keynote at this year’s SCBWI Spring Spirit conference, and she gave a terrific lens into what makes a story meaningful. Her newest book, WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, is a companion to her novel WHEN THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, a National Book Award finalist, and STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY. A Newbery honor author, Grace also writes the Ling & Ting series for beginning readers, the Pacy Lin series for middle readers, and countless other picture books.
Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.
Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide.
Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late.
In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems-where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?
But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.
You gave a TEDx talk entitled, “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf.” In it, you talk about how artists share their vision of the world. In what ways do you think it’s important for both mirrors and windows to comprise an artist’s vision?
Like I said in my TEDx talk, one shouldn’t be an artist because you want praise—one should be an artist because you have a vision to share with the world—and to share it with the world, you have to see outside yourself. But to create a vision worth sharing, I also believe you have to look inside of yourself as well. You need to know yourself before you can take what you observe and make it into art, there’s a reason why so many define art as self-expression. Without your own experiences shaping what you create, you might as well just be a Xerox machine.
A beautifully illustrated point. WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON has been described as reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. In what ways is this significant to you as its author?
I’ve heard that Baum considered The Wizard of Oz to be a true American fairytale, so I’m always a little tickled to hear the comparisons. It was a struggle for me to accept the “multicultural” author label, for a long time I just assumed that meant my books were doomed for the sidelines and that for a niche audience; so when people liken it to a mainstream classic it makes me think maybe my work isn’t so niche after all.
That said, I honestly wasn’t thinking of The Wizard of Oz when I wrote Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I was modeling an old Chinese folktale called “Olive Lake.”
Further proof of how storytelling is not only timeless, it can be both intimate and universal for everyone. WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, the companion story to WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, has a beautiful beginning that weaves together elements of winter. When you compose a book, do the words come first, or the illustrations? Or both?
I might have one or two images in my head when I start the story, but those images almost always change as I write the story. The story always dictates where the images go, so the writing is usually first. I think it’s from the way we were trained as illustrators in art school—we received a story and then drew from there. Here, I just happen to be the one writing the story, too.
And I love the way you weave story and illustrations together. What are some of your current projects?
I’m making a return to picturebooks. My daughter has just turned five and for the last few years my reading world has been filled with them—and I’ve rediscovered their magic. I haven’t created a picturebook in 8 years, I’ll have one coming out in August 2018. It’s called “A Mooncake for Little Star” and I’m really excited about it. I’m changing up my art style for it, so I hope people like it as much as I do!
When the Sea Turned to Silver