This was a sweet little story that took Newbery honors a few years ago. Minli lives in a small, poor village in ancient Asia with her Ma, who has become bitter at their poverty, and Ba (father), who tells stories to lighten it. After a visit by a traveling peddler, Minli sets out to change her family’s fortune—which she does, but not in any way she might expect.
This was not a terribly compelling tale. Rather, it’s sweet, unhurried, and magical. I really enjoyed the magic: dragons, goldfish who talk, an evil magistrate whose spirit still haunts the earth, and the Man of the Moon who ties together each human’s destiny with red thread. The sacrificial friendship that evolves between Minli and a flightless dragon is just as magical. But what I loved most was the way Ba’s stories come full circle and wrap around the entire adventure. By the end, all is well but nothing is the same. Minli, her parents, her town, her neighbors, and even the dragon, are all different as a result of Minli’s courage and choices.
I’d rate this one an easy 4 star. The adventure really didn’t grip me—it’s pretty tame—but the style is engaging. I was equally intrigued by the Asian setting, having just finished Fire on the Mountain. Coincidental timing. A great read for ages 9-12. It would also be a super accompaniment to a unit on China.
If you do pick this one up, be sure to read the afterward that tells how the tale came to be. It made the story even more interesting to me to hear the author explain how she came to embrace her own Asian background.