Tag Archive | the moon

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

“Of course my young friends call me a tree hugger,” says author Jonathan London. “But they’re right. I am.” And he celebrates nature in his 2003 book, Giving Thanks. London teamed up with Gregory Manchess, a self-taught illustrator who also lives on the west coast, who calls their book “a timeless expression of love for nature and of understanding our place in the realm of life.” And according to the book’s jacket, author London admits that just like the characters in his story, “I give thanks to the things of nature every day.”

In the story, the father says a thank-you for the day every day, to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. “Like his Indian friends – singers and storytellers – Dad believes that the things of nature a gift,” London writes. While he explains his philosophy, they stroll through some amazing scenery. A raccoon scurries as they walk under purple clouds. And as the sky turns blue, a tiny frog hides in the tall grass.

It’s the illustrations that really give the story its visual impact. (On the book’s jacket Manchess is identified as a “self-taught illustrator,” and I found myself wondering if that gave his pictures an extra wildness.) Gregory Manchess is like an impressionist Edward Hopper, capturing the light and shadows on the house and the trees around it, while using soft edges to suggest the shapes. He contributes a gorgeous watercolor for the title page – with swatches of yellow-white representing the clouds at sunset, covering a purple sky. The color scheme continues on the next page, where those colors are now covered by the dark-green silhouettes of a pine tree’s leaf, and the amber horizon of a hill is visible in the background, and at its base is a row of distant trees.

The father says a thank you to “the wild mushrooms that smell like pumpkins.” He thanks the trees, with their spectacular red and yellow autumn foliage. There’s an exciting drawing of a fox leaping off over a yellow field. There’s tracks of a deer, and a flock of scattering quails – and the father thanks them all.

Though it’s a simple story, it keeps getting more and more interesting, thanks to Machess’s imaginative illustrations. When London mentions a hawk, “high in the sky,” Manchess switches to a panoramic aerial view, with the hawk’s wings in the foreground and a yellow forest beneath. In the next illustration, it’s just the yellow of the sunset, and the hawk is disappearing among the last clouds. But then there’s a spectacular moonrise over an ancient and twisted tree.

And then the father gives thanks to the moon.

Catching The Moon, by Myla Goldberg

Catching the Moon by Myla Goldberg - illustrated by Chris Sheban

She’s the author of “Bee Season,” but she also wrote a children’s book. Myla Goldberg had described a little girl who robs houses in her first novel in 2000, which had become a best-seller. The little girl came from a dysfunctional family – but are there the same hints of madness in Catching the Moon? Or is it a story about magic?

It starts with an old fisherwoman who stays up all night on the pier. She’s tired each morning, and the other fishermen assume it’s her age. Even the Man in the Moon is worried, as he looks down on her efforts. The woman grumbles when she catches a lobster, saying she’s fishing for something else. But the illustrator foreshadows one of the book’s strange surprises. The bait that she’s using is a live mouse!

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, with the round moon filling the sky. It’s shrouded by clouds, and on its dark side is a realistic face. Chris Sheban draws the moon’s face with many expressions, like the face of a person. In one drawing, the moon arrives in a boat – smiling confidently as it rows – and it’s glow makes a silver pattern on the deep blue water by the pier.

The moon wears green sunglasses, and arrives at the woman’s door. “Sea cucumber sandwich?” he says, offering her the plate. The woman is cranky, and “was not one for entertaining guests.” But she shares tea with the moon, as the tide rolls in and soaks her floor. The moon asks about the holes in her house. The woman retorts, defensively, “Who on earth wears nighttime sunglasses?”

What would you say if the moon came for a visit? It’s a wonderful premise, and Myla Goldberg lets it roll magically along. A wave crashes through the door, knocking over the tea cups. It’s caused by the moon, since its gravity draws the tides of the ocean. And when the moon resignedly returns to his row boat – he leaves behind a trail of glowing footprints.

The next month the woman’s fishing line catches a new kettle and two teacups. (The illustrator shows the poor mouse struggling mightily to haul it in.) And the next month, there’s another knock on the door. “What is it?” asks the old woman.

“Moon pie?” came the reply.

They share tea again – and the sticky marshmallow dessert – and the moon asks how her fishing is going. It’s then that he asks why she’s fishing with a mouse, and the old woman shrieked and guffawed. She’d been fishing for the moon, and assumed it was made out of cheese. And then the story comes together. She’s planning to catch the moon, so she can make it stop sending the high tides that destroy her driftwood shack!

But now that they’re friends, there’s another way to solve her problem…

The Sun’s Asleep Behind the Hill, by Mirra Ginsburg

The Sun's Asleep Behind the Hill, by Mirra Ginsburg

In 1982 Mirra Ginsburg adapted an Armenian song into a beautiful bedtime picture book. “The Sun’s Asleep Behind the Hill” reads like a lullaby, describing the arrival of a peaceful evening as it’s greeted by the creatures around the world. Simple words are written in bold letters – it could easily be a child’s very first book. But best of all, all the sentences rhyme!

“The sun shone in the sky all day,
the sun grew tired and went away…”

The breeze notes that the sun sleeps behind a hill, signaling “It’s time that I was still.” The leaves notice the sleeping breeze, and decide they’ll also take a rest. Soon the birds notice the resting leaves and also relax, and a nut-gathering squirrel notices the relaxing birds, and curls up in its hollow branch. Then a mother with her child notes the sleeping squirrel, and then carries home her own sleeping child.

“It’s time for you to rest.”

But the story holds one last surprise – one creature that discovers that all the world’s asleep. An orange moon creeps into the sky, and declares “I am alone!” The sun is asleep, the breeze is still, the bird is quiet, and the leaves sleep over the lake. Even the child is at rest, and the moon survey’s the empty landscape in a grand, silvery drawing.

“I am alone. And I will shine with a silver light
in the wide, silent sky all night.”

Paul O. Zelinsky contributed illustrations that are colorful and detailed. As the sun sets, there’s a cat on a fence, picnickers leaving the grass, and a man rowing a boat across a shadowy lake. Zelinsky uses pastel colors, and his colorful impressionism gives the book a friendly tone – even as the colors turn darker to show sleepers on a quiet night. Drawings of nature suggest a calm dusk, as a pink sunset reflects in the grey-blue of a lake. And sometimes Zelinsky’s careful illustrations seem to capture the magic of life, like the drawing where leaves of several trees are lit by the sun as their branches bend in the wind…

“The leaves grew tired, they do not shake,
they are asleep over the lake.”

The real purpose of a bedtime story is to lull a child to sleep. And this book seems like it could accomplish that with both relaxing pictures and a simple story that repeats the same words – all about how it’s time to rest. The book’s cover calls it a “just-right bedtime book.” And I’d have to agree.