Three Fantastic Tales (in 2 1/3 Books) With the Flavor of China


 Where the Mountain Meets the Moon      Where the Mountain Meets the Moon / by Grace Lin
It’s hard to make a living in the rice paddies by the Jade River under the shadow of Fruitless Mountain. So, on the advice and direction of a talking goldfish, young Minli (whose name means quick thinking) leaves her Ma and Ba, and goes searching for Never-Ending Mountain to ask the Old Man of the Moon how to improve her family’s fortune. On the way she frees and befriends a friendly but flightless dragon, who hopes that the Old Man of the Moon will also teach him the secret of flight. On the way they pass through the City of Bright Moonlight, where Minli befriends the ruler and Dragon make the aquantance of some helpful stone lions.

Their quest is delightfully enriched by traditional Chinese folktales. As in the Arabian Nights, characters regularly interrupt the main narrative to tell other characters and the reader a story. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was named a Newbery Honor books for 2010.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen      The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen / Lloyd Alexander
When a mysterious stranger calling himself Master Wu shows up unexpectedly at court, King T’ai grants him an audience. He tells the court of a utopian kingdom of wise governance and a happy well behaved populace. The king is impressed and wants to learn more, so his son Prince Jen, much to the annoyance of his servant Mafoo, volunteers to journey to this marvelous place. He sets off with an odd assortment presents for its ruler (chosen by Master Wu), Mafoo, and a splendid military escort.

But fate seems against Jen from the very start. Within a few days, his military escort has mysteriously disappeared. He is set upon by a gang of robbers, who take his sword, robes, and shoes. Now his entourage consists of Mafoo, a flute girl named Voyaging Moon, and another robber who lives by the precepts of not stealing from the poor, the unhappy, the joyful, anyone he knows, or royalty. His name is Moxa, and since rich strangers are scare in his area, he’s a pretty unsuccessful robber. Can things get any worse? Alas, yes, but they might also get better.

Jen’s remarkable journey proves very educational in the end, but will it be successful? Will he reach this far away kingdom of happiness, and what can be learned from sore feet and humiliation?

Genies Meanies and Magic Rings      Genies, Meanies, and Magic Rings: Three Tales from the Arabian Nights / retold by Stephen Mitchell; illustrations by Tom Pohrt

Here’s the book in which one third—the story of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”— has a Chinese setting. Forget the Disney version or any other versions you’ve heard or seen, in the original Aladdin and the princess he marries are Chinese, and except for a brief stop in North Africa, it all takes place in China, where the schemes of an evil Moroccan sorcerer transform the street urchin Aladdin from a lazy boy into a wildly successful, responsible and generous man, much to the disappointment of the greedy sorcerer, whose only desire was to use Aladdin to gain power and riches for himself.

In “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” set in Persia, a poor woodcutter named Ali Baba, with the help of fortune and the Almighty, discovers a cave stuffed with treasure. With the wit and cunning of the servant Marjanah, Ali Baba is able to put all this new wealth to good use despite the efforts of a ruthless gang of thieves to regain their ill-gotten loot.

“Abu Keer and Abu Seer” begins in Egypt, and then sails off to a foreign city, a place so barbaric that the inhabitants are unaware of the civilizing nature of public baths. Here the innocent generosity of Abu Seer ultimately triumphs over the self-centered scheming of his scoundrel companion, Abu Keer.