written and illustrated by Grace Lin
Even if this Newbery Honor Book wasn't a good story (which it is) or was horribly written (which it isn't), the design alone would still make it worth picking up. Full color illustrations, gorgeous chapter headings, whimsical font, and intricate spot art all carry it along. (I've only seen the paperback, so imagine what the hardcover must be like!)
Grace Lin's Asian-inspired story about the Jade Dragon and her four children and young Minli's attempt to reunite them to allow Fruitless Mountain to prosper again, thus ending the poverty of her family and village is awesome, to use that word properly for once.
Part adventure story, part fable part folktale, and part coming-of-age tale, Lin creates in Minli a believable young girl who faces down her parents' expectations, danger, and her own fear to make her fortune and to change the fates of those around her. She is both a traditional heroine and a modern-day feminist-leaning protagonist. She has a doubting mother and a dreaming father, allowing her to see the limitations and benefits of both ways of being. If someone wanted a recipe for the perfect way to write a story of this kind, Grace Lin could provide it, using this book as template.
The book includes back matter from Lin, explaining the background of the story and of her life as a young Asian girl in the United States. She provides photographs to show her inspiration for some of the illustrations, too, a nice addendum to the book.