Madame Chang did not look like any woman Rendi had ever seen before. She was not like the painted ladies of the court, who giggled and swayed like flowers as the wind blew. Nor did she resemble a broad-shouldered peasant woman, thick and browned by the sun. Her features were fine and smooth, as if she had been carved from ivory, and the light in her dark eyes made them shine like stars. She stood with the elegance of a willow tree, and even though she wore the cotton robes of a commoner, both Rendi and Peiyi felt as if they should kowtow before her.
Peiyi’s eyes were as large as lychees, and it took a moment before Rendi realized that they were both staring.
“Master Chao would like to know if you want all your meals brought to you in your room,” Rendi said.
“It’s cooler in the dining room,” Peiyi said…”but it’s hot everywhere, these days.”
“Yes, it is,” Madame Chang agreed with a smile. “But at least it’s not as hot as when there were six suns in the sky.”
“Six suns?” Peiyi asked.
“You don’t know the story?” Madame Chang asked, looking from Peiyi to Rendi. Both shook their heads.
With that, Madame Chang launches into The Story of the Six Suns, one of more than a dozen stories incorporated into this lovely fantasy from Grace Lin, author of Newbery-Honor Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (which I reviewed here.)
As in her previous book, Lin wafts us into this Chinese-fairy-tale world on plum-blossom breezes, creating an exotic atmosphere of ancient villages and silken scrolls, mysterious old gentlemen and fierce magistrates. Her keen descriptions, Oriental-flavor-metaphors and infused Chinese fairy tales work together to transport us thoroughly into the Village of Clear Sky where we meet Rendi, an angry boy with a shadowy past, Madame Chang, a luminous and wise woman, Mr. Shan, a seemingly-witless old man who may have more to him than meets the eye, and a host of other neighbors, innkeepers, visiting guests.
Rendi is puzzled by many things: How has the moon gone missing from the sky? What is that unearthly crying sound in the night that no one else seems to hear? Where has the innkeeper’s son run off to? Who is this Madame Chang? How can he escape from his life as a chore boy, so far beneath his noble position? When Madame Chang arrives with her well of stories and coaxes Rendi to tell his own stories as well, the fog gradually lifts, the pieces begin to fall into place. I particularly love that it is through story that truths are uncovered, in this complex tale.
Great story for ages 8-12, or an excellent choice for a read-aloud.
Here’s the Amazon link: Starry River of the Sky
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