When the Sea Turned to Silver

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
When the Sea Turned to Silver Book Poster Image
Rich folklore-fantasy blend makes a great read-aloud.

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Author's note explains symbolism behind some numbers in Chinese culture and how they relate to this novel and two of her others. A bibliography provides resources for further exploration of Chinese folklore, although some are not aimed at children.

Positive Messages

Stories represent freedom, such as when a prisoner doesn't feel like he's imprisoned when he listens to Amah's stories, and immortality, because people and their actions live on as long as their stories are told. (Author's note connects this idea to telling stories about loved ones who have passed away.) Overall plot and many of the stories within emphasize perseverance, standing up to the powerful, friendship, honesty, and being kind and just.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pinmei and Yishan are brave, clever, loyal to each other, kind to others, self-sacrificing, and willing to endure many hardships to help others. They make many friends along the way, and Yishan especially is unafraid of standing up to those in power, even the villainous emperor.

Violence & Scariness

Pinmei is violently separated from her grandmother Amah, who raised her alone. The heroes are frequently in mild to moderate peril on their journey, sometimes from fantasy elements and sometimes from other characters. Some magical beasts are moderately scary. A drop of blood in a story is an important plot element. Whipped prisoners and people stolen and forced into hard labor are mentioned. Blood from cuts mentioned in a fantasy. A soldier hits Amah hard; she falls, and a trickle of blood is mentioned.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When the Sea Turned to Silver is a fantasy about a young girl's quest to find her grandmother after they're violently separated. Written by Newbery honoree Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), it incorporates many elements of Chinese folklore and has many stories within the story that are based on folklore but are the author's creations. There's some scariness from both fantasy creatures and other characters, with the heroes frequently in mild to moderate peril. Blood is mentioned a few times, and a drop of blood is an important plot element. The big-kid characters Pinmei and Yishan are great role models, and positive messages about the value of storytelling, perseverance, and kindness to others abound.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byhophop March 29, 2018

Silver trilogy

When the Sea turned to Silver is the third in a wonderful trilogy by Grace Lin. These books are magically told, lavishly illustrated and poetically rich. Lovely... Continue reading
Adult Written byEHaralamos April 24, 2020

Great books!!

Love these books! My 7 and 8 year old daughters wouldn't allow me to put this book down, and even their four year old brother enjoyed listening. We'v... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old February 25, 2021

Love it!

It is a good story, but a little scary.
Teen, 13 years old Written byspinningwaffles123 February 3, 2021


I loved this book, the illustrations were beautiful and I loved the story. While seven year olds can read it, they will not completely understand it.

What's the story?

WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER tells the story of how Pinmei and her friend Yishan go on a journey to find and rescue Pinmei's grandmother. The emperor's soldiers come to Pinmei and Amah's remote mountain hut, take Amah away, and burn the hut to the ground. Pinmei and Yishan, her friend from higher up on the mountain, set out to find and rescue Amah from the emperor's clutches. Along the way they encounter the beautiful Lady Meng, the Sea King, a pair of greedy monkeys, and many others; and Pinmei learns not only that she's inherited her grandmother's gift for storytelling and why storytelling is so important, but she also learns she's capable of much more than she thought.

Is it any good?

Author Grace Lin has created another gorgeously written, beautifully illustrated folklore-fantasy tale that readers of a wide range of ages will savor over and over. When the Sea Turns to Silver's illustrations and clever book design enhance the experience by providing engaging detail and hidden hints that will delight and intrigue.

The folktales themselves (created by Lin) augment and foreshadow Pinmei's fantastic, magical journey. They're stunningly imagined and so thoroughly steeped in real folklore elements that they seem as old as the Black Tortoise of Winter himself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about storytelling in When the Sea Turned to Silver. Why do Amah and Pinmei tell stories? What do you and the characters in the book like about the stories?

  • If someone or something magical could make you immortal, would you want to be? Why, or why not?

  • Which story in the book is your favorite? What do you like best about it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales and Asian stories

Themes & Topics

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