As she did in her Newbery Honor Book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and in Starry River of the Sky, Grace Lin tapped into Chinese folklore to shape her latest illustrated middle-grade fantasy, When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown, Oct.). In this companion to those earlier novels, Pinmei’s grandmother captivates her granddaughter and the other villagers with her storytelling, until one night soldiers of the emperor kidnap her. Knowing that the emperor yearns to possess something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night, Pinmei and a mysterious boy embark on an arduous journey to find the object and save her grandmother.
“When I began this novel, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a companion to my other books, but I did have so many stories that didn’t really fit into the other story lines,” Lin says. “I began daydreaming about doing When the Sea Turned to Silver quite a while ago—this novel was six years in the making. It features a new protagonist, and you don’t have to have read the other novels before reading this, though if you have, you’ll recognize some common threads.”
Lin says that she was a bit nervous when she began writing novels based on Chinese folklore, since, she says, “I was afraid people would be mad that I was taking old legends and twisting them to fit my story. But then I recalled once being in Rome, and seeing many old, beautiful sculptures out in the open, being eroded by pollution, rain, and wind. And I said to an Italian man, ‘This is so sad. In the U.S., we keep sculptures safe in museums.’ He answered, ‘But here art gets to be part of life, whereas in a museum it does not.’ I thought that was such an interesting way of thinking, and now that’s how I feel about adapting these ancient legends. Allowing them to grow and change over time keeps the stories alive, and keeps them part of our lives.”
Winning 2010 Newbery Honors for When the Mountain Meets the Moon was both intimidating and empowering, Lin reports: “In a way, it put pressure on me, since I didn’t want readers to be disappointed by my next book. I do a lot of school visits, and kids often squeal, ‘Write another book about Jade Dragon!’ and it took me awhile to figure out how to write the next story. But at the same time, it was a wonderful feeling to realize that there were readers out there, waiting for another book.”
Lin signs ARCs of When the Sea Turned to Silver today, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 8, in the Autographing Area.
This article appeared in the May 13, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.