2016 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature
When the Sea Turned to Silver
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
When the Sea Turned to Silver is an intricately woven magic carpet that transports the reader to an ancient China of myth, legend, and adventure. From the opening cry of the chained “Tortoise of Winter,” to the surprise ending that completes the pattern, these stories within stories are storytelling at its best.
ABOUT THE BOOK
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.
A fast-paced adventure that is extraordinarily written and beautifully illustrated, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a masterpiece companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.
About the Author
Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of picture books, including the Ugly Vegetables and Dim Sum for Everyone! Her first children’s novel, The Year of the Dog was published in 2006. Lin won a Newbery Honor Book award for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which was also a Today Show Kids Book Club Selection.
- Grace Lin's Blog: gracelinblog.com
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Interview by Tracey Baptiste
I’ve long been an admirer of Grace Lin’s work, particularly her beautiful use of language and the way she envelops the reader in the world of the story. In When the Sea Turned to Silver, readers are treated not only to a world set in Chinese culture, but to what is arguably the backbone of all cultures: the legends that people share with each other. The intertwining threads of Lin’s stories within a story combine in a masterful plot with compelling characters as they embark on an adventure worthy of becoming a legend itself.
Tracey Baptiste: You wrote in the author's note that you were inspired by people coming together to tell stories about loved ones they had lost. What do you think it is about storytelling that binds people together?
Grace Lin: I do think that stories bind us together. In my three books, one of the themes is the red thread—a Chinese legend that says people who are destined to be together are tied together by an invisible, unbreakable red thread. To me, stories are those red threads. They connect us to each other—even to people we don't know and will never meet.
What makes us distinct individuals are our histories and memories; and that is what stories are. When one shares a story, they are sharing a part of themselves and that is something that is uniquely human. Storytelling is a universal bond amongst us because it acknowledges our humanity—no matter what race or gender.
TB: What is the plotting process like with so many threads to weave together?
GL: Chaotic! Honestly, it's just a big mess in my brain that I slowly try to untangle and tie back together. I try to lay it all out ahead of time and usually the basic structure is there, but the layers and threads just start wrapping and twisting thicker and thicker as I start writing. I always am a bit surprised when I am able to pull it off.
TB: No matter what part of the world it comes from, folklore tends to contain fantastic elements. What is it about fantasy that draws readers or listeners in?
GL: It's fun! People want to be connected and they also want to be entertained; and fantasy does the latter particularly well. These stories allow readers and listeners to imagine places and things they never dreamed of, yet still connects them to their own real humanity. When done well, fantasy stories are so satisfying and give us what no other stories can—a way to live in a world of dreams.
TB: How important do you think it is to have stories that come from other cultures, even ones that may be wholly unfamiliar to a reader?
GL: For me, personally, it's important. I've struggled with my identity, and using stories from my Asian heritage to make my American stories has been my way of claiming a stake here in the US. Over the years, I've realized I will never be Asian, and I will never be American. I will always be Asian-American, and I wanted to create something that embodied and celebrated that identity. In the media (especially in the past, it is getting much better), it feels as if Asian-Americans don't exist. And the reason why is because our stories are never shared (or we are whitewashed out, but that is a whole other issue). So having stories from other cultures, especially ones that are unfamiliar, is extremely important because it acknowledges that culture's existence—and our shared humanity.
TB: You’ve mentioned that teachers who have read your books as part of a One School, One Book program, have said that they might not have selected it, thinking it was not for them. Can you talk a little more about people's expectations about diverse books?
GL: So, I've been publishing "diverse" books since 1999—back when we called them "multicultural." The label has changed but, until a couple years ago, not much else. For a long time, many gatekeepers assumed that these books were "not for us" because the characters did not reflect their clientele, their population, or their own kids. And when a book featuring a person of color was exposed to their kids, it was usually a good-for-you-issue book, which perpetuated the myth that these books were not about enjoyment.
I know many people are trying to change those preconceptions and, in my experience, I've found the most effective way has been the One School, One Book programs. Whenever one of my books are selected for these programs, I always receive the most amazing feedback. Parents, who confess that they probably would not have picked my book up otherwise, say how it brought their family closer together. Teachers, who admit they initially wanted something more "accessible," tell me how it was a magical read for all their students. And kids, who’d never read any of my books before, tell me how I am now their most favorite author in the world. It's pretty powerful stuff; and, to me, it shows that if we could just get people to give these diverse books a chance, it could open their eyes to how much they do want to read them.
TB: What would you like to see more schools do to increase the diversity of the literature that they offer students?
GL: Well, of course, I'd love to see more One School, One Book reads featuring diverse books. But I know that isn't always possible, those programs take a lot of work for many already over-taxed teachers and school administrators. But maybe schools could make it a priority for all teachers to spend ten minutes a day reading a book to their students—and make sure that a good portion of the books they read over the year feature diverse characters. I think it would make a difference. My dearest memories in school are when my third grade teacher read a chapter a day from a book to us in class, so much so that I remember each one she read—Pippi Longstocking, The Boxcar Children, My Brother Sam is Dead, The Search for Delicious...all became my favorite books. But I wish it continued beyond third grade (and happened earlier as well) and that a couple of those books could have featured a character that looked like me.
TB: Finally, so where were you and what did you do when you found out you were finalist for the National Book Award?
GL: I was in California when I heard about about the NBA (I was there visiting schools and bookstore for about a week). Actually what happened was that I received an e-mail the day before from my publisher saying that the NBA was going to announce their shortlist a week earlier than planned as to not compete with the announcement of the Nobel Prize (and other things) and to hope for a call the next day. When they told me that, I was so disappointed (and, I admit, a little disgruntled)! I was sure I wouldn't make the shortlist and really wanted to have that extra week to live the dream.
So the next day, I was getting ready for my day in the hotel in California and saw that most of the morning for the east coast was over and suspected the time for notification calls might have passed. But then the phone rang! However, I saw that the caller was from NYC and I assumed that a call from the NBA would be from DC, so I picked it up without any excitement. I thought it was my editor, probably calling to tell me the bad news gently. But my enthusiasm level completely changed when I found out who it really was!
After the news sunk in, I did a happy dance in my hotel room.
Tracey Baptiste, M. Ed. is the author of the middle grade novel THE JUMBIES and its forthcoming sequel. She is also the author of the young adult novel ANGEL’S GRACE, as well as nonfiction books for children such as THE TOTALLY GROSS HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT. Ms. Baptiste volunteers with We Need Diverse Books, and The Brown Bookshelf. She teaches in Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program, and runs the editorial company Fairy Godauthor.