Where the Mountain Meets Humanity by Shelley Moore Thomas
As a third grade teacher, I consider very carefully which novels to choose when I embark on a read-aloud adventure with my class. There are so many great books to choose from. Too many, really. But choose I must, for I cannot read them all–there is only so much time.
Speaking of time, before anyone argues that reading literature aloud with a class of students might not be worthy of class time, just remember this:
(Yeah, I know, this is the Nerdy Book Club! This is the proverbial choir that I am preaching to! What better reason for reading than that—to make us smarter and nicer?)
But there is so much more.
Stories reinforce the interconnectedness of humanity and shine a light on how one life, one decision, can touch so many others.
I make a concerted effort to read aloud diverse novels with my students. One of my favorites is the wonderful Newbery Honor book by Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. This story is set in ancient China and follows young Minli as she goes on a quest to improve her family’s fortune. Minli is a risk-taker with loads of empathy. She gives up everything to try to make a difference for her family. My class was so into this book!
There was a moment during that beautiful interaction between reader, listener, and literature, which caught all of us off guard. (SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not read WTMMTM, do it now! It is well worth your time!) We reached the climactic moment, when Minli, after struggling for so long finally to reach the one person who might be able to help her, (the Old Man of the Moon), is told she is allowed but one question. The Old Man of the Moon will only answer one question!
And Minli gives her question away to someone who needs an answer more than she does.
When I read that part, there were audible gasps in the room.
Minli, at the end of her journey, throws away her one chance to get the answers she spent 400 pages searching for!
Or does she?
We paused there and we discussed why she did what she did, why she chose someone else’s needs over her own. That conversation was one of those moments. A moment of pure understanding, enlightenment, and complete connection with a story.
I live for those moments. Those times when I feel like my eight year-olds are beginning to comprehend what is means to be human and to struggle with choices and to learn that our choices affect others.
I am still thinking about that discussion now.
I will admit that I am not a perfect teacher. My journey to help my students see themselves as a visible part of a global community has so much farther to go. And I start afresh every September with this goal in mind. But there has been progress. Every year more progress. And there has been depth. For this I am thankful. Grace Lin says one of the themes in WTMMTM is thankfulness.
And I am so thankful that she wrote it.
Shelley Moore Thomas is a third grade teacher and author of several books for children, including the forthcoming THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS illustrated by Fred Koehler. (September 2016) You can find her at shelleymoorethomas.blogspot.com and on Twitter @story_queen.