Starry River of the Sky


By Grace Lin

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From bestselling author Grace Lin comes the companion to the Newbery Honor winner Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the National Book Award finalist When the Sea Turned to Silver.

The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems.

But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin brings readers another enthralling fantasy featuring her marvelous full-color illustrations. Starry River of the Sky is filled with Chinese folklore, fascinating characters, and exciting new adventures.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Copyright Page

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Rendi was not sure how long the moon had been missing. He knew only that for weeks, the wind seemed to be whimpering as if the sky were suffering. At first, he had thought the moans were his own because his whole body ached from hiding in the merchant's moving cart. However, it was when the cart had stopped for the evening, when the bumping and knocking had ended, that the groans began.

The sky had moaned and cried for many nights before Rendi finally dared to peek out. When he heard the donkey being led away and the nighttime wails beginning again, Rendi crawled from behind the gangs of wine—huge pottery vessels as big as he was—and poked out his head from the covered cart. Yet when he looked up into the sky, he saw nothing. The stars had dimmed to little more than faded shadows, and the mournful noises echoed in the blackness. It was then that Rendi realized the moon was missing.

He thought it would appear the next night, or the night after. Rendi was sure the moon would return, as it always had—glowing as if it were cut from the sky with a pair of sharp scissors. But it did not. Every evening, after the merchant had left, Rendi crept from the stifling, sticky cart into the fresh night air and peeked up. And every time, the Starry River of the Sky was empty.

"You must have wine," a voice said. The merchant! In the cart, Rendi froze. Another moonless night had passed, and the darkness inside the covered cart had thinned with the morning's arrival. The hitching of the donkey had jerked Rendi awake, his head knocking against one of the clay vats, but it was the sound of voices that alarmed him. "It is the Day of Five Poisons. I can sell you a gang," the smooth voice of the merchant said.

"I own an inn, not a tavern," another voice replied. "I don't need a gang of wine. That is too much."

"Ah, but having some wine stocked does not make your place a tavern," the merchant replied. "You offer tea and food in the dining room of your inn, do you not? Offer wine as well, and your guests will gladly pay."

"I just need enough wine to protect us from the Noxious Animals," the innkeeper said. "For me to drink and to write the wang symbol on my daughter's forehead. One jug will be fine."

"But it is the famous Son Wine," the merchant said. "And I can give you a very good deal."

"Son Wine?" the innkeeper said. Rendi could hear the hesitation. Don't buy any! Rendi begged silently, trying to quiet his thumping heart. Don't open the cart!

"I can sell it in the city for a high price, but it has been so hot that I'm afraid the wine may spoil before I get there," the merchant continued. "You can see I've even had to cover my cart. It's better for me to sell you some now. We can include my last night's lodging in the cost."

As noiselessly as possible, Rendi scrambled to the back of the cart while the men outside agreed on a price. Rendi squeezed between the two gangs farthest from the opening, the huge clay containers compressing him like meat in a dumpling. The cart opened, and Rendi clasped his bag close to him, feeling the hardness of his rice bowl through the cloth.

The merchant and the innkeeper struggled to remove a gang, rocking the cart back and forth. Rendi scarcely breathed, and the men grunted as they pushed and shoved. Neither noticed the small figure well hidden in the shadows of the remaining gangs.

With a rude curse from the merchant, the vat finally dropped safely to the ground with a thud. Both men leaned against the cart, and the sun glinted from the back of the merchant's bald, perspiring head. As the innkeeper sighed from the exertion, Rendi slowly let out his breath. Safe, Rendi thought as he listened to the men finish their deal. He closed his eyes in relief.

"What's that?" the innkeeper said.

Rendi's eyes flew open. Hands and arms reached toward him, grabbing and pulling. He squirmed and struggled, but there was no escape. Rendi was roughly dragged out of the cart, and soon he was staggering and squinting in the bright daylight.

"A stowaway!" the merchant growled, his friendly manner disappearing. The merchant was wiry and sun-brown, and his hands were as strong as iron chains. One hand clamped the back of Rendi's neck in a relentless grip while the other rose to strike him with a vicious blow.

Rendi cringed, but the innkeeper grabbed the merchant's arm before it struck. "He's just a boy," said the innkeeper, who was shaped a bit like a jug of wine himself. "He doesn't look much older than my daughter."

"You can have him, then!" the merchant said with an unkind laugh. He shoved Rendi to the ground. As Rendi coughed up dust and the innkeeper helped him to his feet, the merchant quickly closed the cart, climbed into the driver's seat, and grabbed the reins of the donkey. "Didn't you say your son left?" he mocked. "Take this one. He's included with the wine!"

"But…" the innkeeper said as the wheels of the cart spit dust at him. "But…"

Swiftly, the merchant drove away, deaf to the innkeeper's stammers. The innkeeper gaped from the cart to the boy, and then at the cart again. The boy clung to his cloth bag, and the cart blurred in the distance. The innkeeper stared blankly at it. And when the merchant and his cart finally disappeared into the flat line of the horizon, Master Chao, the innkeeper, was still staring.


Rendi's muscles were as soft as uncooked tofu and his face as friendly as an angry tiger, but Master Chao said finally, "I do need someone to help with the chores at the inn."

A chore boy! Rendi scowled with scorn, but then he saw the long, wide, empty road in front of him and the dust from the merchant's cart floating in the air like a fading ghost. The grass was yellow and withering, and a quick scan around showed, besides the shabby inn, a handful of broken-down stone houses. There's nothing here! Rendi thought with shock. Where am I?

"What kind of chores?" Rendi said, forcing the words from his mouth. He would stay for now, he told himself. But just for now.

"Well, first," Master Chao said, "I need you to help me bring this wine into the inn."

Rendi was not much help moving the wine. He could not get his puny arms around the gang, much less lift it. Master Chao grunted and huffed and panted and had only succeeded in moving the wine a few feet when Rendi said, "If we put it on its side, we could roll it."

Master Chao stopped and said, "What is your name?"


"Well, Rendi," Master Chao said, "that is a good idea."

Rendi's dark frown lightened. They tilted the gang and slowly rolled it into the inn, the hot sun burning their necks. But when they brought the wine into the back storeroom, a small figure ran in like lightning, and Rendi's scowl returned.

It was Master Chao's young daughter, Peiyi. Her round face still showed remains of her breakfast, and the bottoms of her pant legs were brown with dirt. Rendi wrinkled his nose, looking at her as if she were a worm in a half-eaten peach.

"Who's that boy?" Peiyi asked, stopping in midstride.

"That's Rendi," Master Chao said without turning. He was mixing realgar powder into a small bowl of wine. "Rendi is going to take over some of Jiming's chores. Rendi, this is my daughter, Peiyi."

Rendi sniffed and rolled his eyes away from her in contempt. Peiyi's eyes narrowed.

However, Master Chao seemed not to notice and brought Peiyi in front of him. He gently pushed her tangled hair from her cherry-blossom-pink face. She stood as still as a carved statue, with only her eyes moving, as her father dipped his finger into the wine mixture and carefully wrote wang, a symbol of power, with it on her forehead. Rendi watched from the doorway, and a strange, jealous anger filled him.

"That should protect you from the Noxious Animals," Master Chao said to her, and sighed. "Day of Five Poisons, already! Spring was hardly here, and now it's summer."

Peiyi didn't answer, for her eyes were glued on Rendi in the doorway. He had been making rude faces at her, pretending to be each of the five poisonous animals—snake, scorpion, centipede, spider, and toad. His last impression was of the Noxious Toad, which he made by bulging his eyes and sticking out his tongue.

"Why is that boy here?" Peiyi said, her lips pursing.

"I told you," Master Chao said. "With Jiming gone, we need someone to help with the chores."

"We don't need him!" Peiyi protested. "Jiming will come back!"

Master Chao sighed again, this time a heavy sigh that fell like a stone in water. "Your brother made his decision," he said, standing up stiffly. Without another word, Master Chao walked out of the room.

Peiyi stared after her father with forlorn eyes and then looked at Rendi. The strange, jealous anger from before had lingered and strengthened, and he jeered at her.

"Baby!" Rendi said. "Too young to drink the wine, so you have to wear the wang sign! Watch out for the Noxious Animals!"

Peiyi glared. "Horrible!" she hissed at him, and ran out of the room.


To Rendi, this small Village of Clear Sky and its inn were horrible. Peiyi was forced to show him everything, and she fumed with anger as he sneered at the rough wooden floors, the humble and broken-down houses, and the yellowing weeds dying between the rocks in the walls.

The only thing Rendi could not scorn was the strange, endless plain of stone that lay beyond the inn. The smooth rock ground stretched beyond sight, as if someone had wiped away part of the landscape with a rag.

"What is that?" Rendi gasped in spite of himself.

"It's the Stone Pancake," Peiyi answered. She was glad there was at least one thing this horrid boy could not mock. "My ancestor made it."

"Made it?" Rendi said in disbelief. "You're lying!"

"It's true!" Peiyi insisted. "My ancestor was a great man."

"Your ancestor? My ancestor was the…" Rendi sputtered, and then stopped.

"What did your ancestor do?" Peiyi said. "Mine moved a mountain!"

Rendi bit his lip in frustration. His ancestors were far greater than the ancestors of this dirty-faced girl! But he swallowed his words bitterly and, instead, said, "How?"


When this place was called the Village of Endless Mountain, my esteemed great-grandfather moved here. He was an extraordinary man. He was so determined and courageous that when he wanted his tea made of Nan Ling water, he journeyed the hundreds of miles to the Long River and braved the brutal and violent waves to get it. He was so smart and clever that he never lost a game of chess in his entire life. He was so strong and powerful that he pulled two oxen by their tails through the street. So wondrous was my honored great-grandfather that all, even the spirits above, looked upon him with admiration.

So, when one fall morning he looked out his window and was displeased, the ground seemed to join his family with their trembling. "I see nothing out my window," my great-grandfather cried. "Why can I not see the sky, the sun, and clouds?"

"Honored father"—his two sons and wife bowed at his feet—"our house is next to the mountain. You do not see the sky in your room, because the mountain blocks it."

My esteemed great-grandfather sputtered, "I must be able to see the sky! I cannot let the mountain block the heavens! We will move the mountain."

He gathered shovels and pails, and he and his obedient sons began to dig. One bucket at a time, they began to carry the mountain away. Obviously, this seemed an impossible task, like emptying the ocean with a rice bowl. Yet my honored great-grandfather was not discouraged, and day after day, he and his sons carried away buckets of earth.

All the villagers came to watch in amazement as my great-grandfather and his sons attempted to move the mountain. Their awed whispers carried to the clouds, and the Spirit of the Mountain overheard. The Spirit gazed down at my great-grandfather and his tireless, unyielding shoulders bearing away stones of the mountain and was alarmed. The Spirit took human form and rushed down.

"Why are you trying to move the mountain?" the Spirit asked my honored great-grandfather. "To carry it away, bucket by bucket—is that not impossible? Even if you were to live a hundred years and work every day, you could not achieve it."

My esteemed great-grandfather brushed away the words. "I will move this mountain," he said. "If I do not move the mountain in my lifetime, my sons will continue my work and their sons after that. Eventually, this mountain of annoyance will be gone!"

The Mountain Spirit heard the truth in my honored great-grandfather's words and began to quake and shiver with fear. Without another word, the Spirit left. The next morning, the sun streamed into my great-grandfather's room. He leaped from his bed and ran outside.

The mountain was gone.

Instead, there was an empty stone field that seemed as flat as a plate and as endless as the sky. My honored great-grandfather stood with pride. He had moved the mountain.

"And that is why we have the Stone Pancake," Peiyi finished. "It is where the mountain used to be, before it fled from my great-grandfather's power and wisdom."

"No one uses it?" Rendi said.

"Nothing grows on it, no one builds on it, and no one travels on it," Peiyi said, shaking her head. "It's so big that if you walk on it far enough, you'll see nothing but the sky and the flat stone and get lost! Sometimes we use a small bit of it near the inn for celebrations, like weddings, but usually it is left bare."

"I can't believe it," Rendi said. But the never-ending flat land drew out in front of him, and he could think of no other explanation.

"The missing mountain is also why this place is called the Village of Clear Sky," Peiyi couldn't help adding. "Because the sky is clear of the mountain."

Clear of the moon too, Rendi thought grimly.

That evening, in his new bedroom at the inn, the moans of the sky returned. Rendi clenched his teeth and covered his ears with his hands until, finally, he glared out his window into the dark. Below the groaning of the night, he heard the satisfied snores coming from the bedroom of Master Chao. Was Rendi the only one who heard the sky? Was it just in his head? Why wouldn't it leave him alone? Another cry echoed.

"Stop it!" Rendi whispered fiercely into the moonless sky. "I'm not going to listen to your whining anymore!"

But the night just gave a mournful noise in answer, and Rendi scowled. He would forget about the sobbing sky, the missing moon, everything. He would forget it all. He turned from the window, shutting his eyes. There was nothing to see anyway. Outside, there was only blackness and the poor Village of Clear Sky.


Just like that, Rendi became the chore boy at the Inn of Clear Sky. He was not used to doing chores, so when he found a broom in his hand, he had to watch Peiyi to learn how to sweep. He watched her so closely as she washed and dusted that she was convinced he was mocking her and said in annoyance, "Go clean that room by yourself."

As he left, Peiyi added, "Do a good job. It's the best room in the inn."

Just by her tone, Rendi could tell that the room was a point of pride. Instead of plain wood, the couch bed in this room was carved with ribbon-tailed birds and plum blossoms. There was a matching table, and the warm-colored wood shone as if it had just been dipped in honey. Silk scrolls hung on the wall, and lacquered, painted gourds stood as vases.

Rendi sneered. "Best room in the inn," he scoffed to one of the painted peonies. "It's not even good enough for one of my father's servants."

But as the words fell from his lips, he froze and his face darkened. Without another word, Rendi spent the rest of the time vigorously polishing and dusting, flinging the dirt from the window as if to rid the room of any of his lingering words. When he finished, the room was spotless, and even Peiyi could not find any fault with it.

Wasted work, though, Rendi often thought. With the exception of old Mr. Shan, who did not even stay at the inn but just came to eat every day, there were no guests at the Inn of Clear Sky. Rendi watched carefully day after day, hoping another merchant or trader would arrive so he could leave this poor, pitiful village with its crying sky.

It could barely be called a village, really; most of the homes were empty and abandoned, and the people who lived here now would barely fill the dining room of the inn. "Everyone leaves. Villagers, guests, everyone. Even my brother left," Peiyi had said sadly to Rendi. But she had added with a note of happiness, "Even you'll go, someday."

I hope someday soon, Rendi had thought.

But it was not to be today. In the morning, Rendi awoke to the strident crow of the neighbor's rooster and looked out the window. As he expected, the hot sun shone brightly on the undisturbed yard, and there was not a horse or hoofprint visible. Rendi sighed and washed his face. Perhaps tomorrow a guest would come. A guest with a cart he could crawl into.

"You're late," Master Chao said as Rendi and Peiyi walked down the stairs. "We have a new guest."

"A new guest?" Peiyi said in surprise. Rendi was also surprised. The sky's moaning had kept him awake most of the night, and he had heard no one arrive. "Did he come in the night?"

"No," Master Chao said. "Arrived early this morning, alone, on foot, and paid for a room for a whole month. She said she may stay longer."

"She?" Rendi said. The word spurted from him in surprise. It was unheard of for a woman to be staying alone at an inn, much less one who came on foot and stayed for longer than a night.

"Yes," Master Chao said, "and she wants her breakfast brought to her room. Make sure you ask her if she wants all her meals there."

"What is she doing here?" Peiyi asked. "And for so long?"

"That's not our business," Master Chao said, quickly shaking his head at Peiyi. "She paid for her room and meals. That is all that concerns us."

Peiyi looked at Rendi, but he did not return her gaze. He hoped he looked bored and uninterested, even though inside he was as curious as she was.


"I'll help you bring up the breakfast," Peiyi said to Rendi. He wasn't fooled. He knew she just wanted to peek at their new, mysterious guest. But he said nothing and handed her the covered cup of tea.

The new female guest was standing at the window in the finest room of the inn, the same window Rendi had flung dust out of. Her back was toward them, and she stood against the yellow sunlight. The darkness of her silhouette reminded Rendi of the moonless sky that cried at him at night.

"Your breakfast," Rendi said, "Madame…"

"Madame Chang," the woman said. Her serene voice seemed out of place in the hot room, already baking in the summer sun. "Tell me," Madame Chang said without turning, "what did you name the stone field where the mountain was?"

"The Stone Pancake," Peiyi said, pleased that this new guest already knew the story. "It was my ancestor who moved the mountain!"

"Really?" Madame Chang said, and she turned and looked at them. Rendi and Peiyi gaped.

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, and then with an attempt at a grown-up air, "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.


Long ago, so long that only the sky, mountains, and water can truly remember, six suns appeared in the sky. These six suns caused great suffering and devastation to the earth. Rain boiled away before ever touching the ground. The trees and plants withered, leaving behind only the scorched earth, burned and brown. All the villagers were forced to live like worms, crowding into an ancient dark hole in one of the hills. As they began to starve, they also began to despair.

But then a rumor began to murmur at night, perhaps sent by the Spirit of the Mountain above. "The one marked with power can save you," it whispered. "The one who bears the mark of power can save you."

The people looked at one another in confusion until a man stepped forward. His name was WangYi, and he was the strongest, bravest, and quickest of all men. He had already done many great deeds. They said he had tamed the flooding water serpent with just the fierceness of his eyes, and he had killed the single-toothed earth giant with his mighty strength. But more than that, WangYi had an unusual scar on his forehead. It looked like the character wang, a symbol of power.


  • A Booklist Editor's Choice
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
    An Atlantic Wire Best Middle Grade Book of the Year
  • * "This companion novel to Lin's Newbery Honor-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon surpasses that book in both plot and prose, again using interspersed stories that neatly circle around one another. The message that anger distorts while forgiveness transforms runs throughout the novel, never seeming repetitive and always feeling fresh while adroitly bolstering the connections among the various characters...[A]n enthrallingly told and handsomely illustrated tale."—The Horn Book, starred review
  • * "This mesmerizing companion to the Newbery Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon does not disappoint...Lin's writing is clear and lyrical, her plotting complex, and her illustrations magical, all of which make this a book to be savored."—Booklist, starred review
  • * "Lin artfully wraps her hero's story in alternating layers of Chinese folklore, providing rich cultural context. Detailed, jewel-toned illustrations and spot art reminiscent of Chinese painting highlight key scenes and themes and serve as the focus of an overall exquisite design. A worthy companion to Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon."—Kirkus, starred review
  • * "This tight and cyclical plotting, combined with Lin's vibrant, full-color paintings and chapter decorations, creates a work that is nothing short of enchanting. Like the restored moon, Starry River outshines the previous work."—School Library Journal, starred review
  • * "The writing and themes are lovely and readers feel the story long after it has ended...With the layers of myth, folklore, and superb storytelling, readers will be moved. Read this book; share this book; send Grace Lin a thank you card for sharing this story."—Library Media Connection, starred review
  • * "The lively mixture of adventure, mystery, and fantasy, supported by compelling character development and spellbinding language, will captivate a wide swath of readers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

On Sale
Oct 2, 2012
Page Count
304 pages

Grace Lin

About the Author

Grace Lin is the award-winning and bestselling author and illustrator of Starry River of the Sky, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days, and Ling &amp Ting, as well as picture books such as The Ugly Vegetables and Dim Sum for Everyone! Grace is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in Massachusetts. Her website is

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