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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
How the Moon Regained Her Shape
How the Moon Regained Her Shape
by Janet Ruth Heller, illustrated by Ben Hodson
Sylvan Dell Publishing,(February 2006)
Once the moon was round and full, proud of her gentle light. She did not fear the darkness around her. She danced across the sky, laughing as she twirled her skirts.
But one day she danced across the face of the sun. The earth darkened and the sun spoke angrily to the moon. "You ugly scarecrow! People on earth need me to grow their crops. But no one needs you. Get out of my way!"
The moon stopped dancing and blushed very red. "I'm sorry," she stammered. She slowly drifted away from the sun.
The moon tried to start dancing again, but the sun's words tormented her. Her arms and legs seemed too heavy to twirl. She felt very alone in the heavens. She slowly walked along her skypath, hanging her head. Her body began to shrink until she was just a sliver of her former self.
--How the Moon Regained Her Shape by Janet Ruth Heller, illustrated by Ben Hodson, p. 1-6.
It's hard to deal with bullies. Even harder is dealing with the impact that bullies--or emotional abuse--has. The moon felt happy and free until one day when she danced in front of the sun, and the sun abrasively put her down and hurt her feelings. The moon then found herself unable to dance and began to shrink in size, until she found some friends who all told her things they liked and appreciated about her--and then the moon could dance again, and regain her shape. How the Moon Regained Her Shape is a strong, gentle, positive book about bullying, keeping and regaining self esteem, and the importance of hearing positives, cleverly woven into a modern folktale about the moon changing shape.
Heller uses a storytelling voice with modern, accessible language. Her well-written prose moves the reader forward as she creates reader empathy for the moon, and makes readers want to know what the moon will do to overcome the sun's bullying. The text never feels too long, but sings with a lyrical storytelling rhythm. Heller has obvious insight into how it feels to be bullied or emotionally abused, and the way hurtful words can impact on one ("The moon tried to start dancing again, but ... her arms and legs seemed too heavy to twirl"). This understanding may help readers who've experienced something similar to feel understood and seen, and readers who haven't to begin to understand what it feels like. Heller's text also speaks of how the moon regained her happiness, and, through example, gently encourages readers to do the same.
Heller sets the story up perfectly, showing us the moon's happiness and lightness before the sun bullies her, through her dancing, her laughter, and her lack of fear. The effects on the moon are very clear, as are her attempts to feel better, which can easily translate into something the reader can do for themselves--seek out positives from friends. The ending is positive and strong, though I would have liked a bit more of an uplifting note. Still, it's clear that the moon remembers the positives her friends told her, and holds onto them when anyone else insults her--and it's also realistic that she would still be affected by bullying or emotional abuse, while positive that she has a new, useful way of dealing with it.
Heller uses strong, descriptive verbs--shrink, trudged, dragging--to help readers identify with the moon and see how she is feeling. Heller also allows readers to figure out how the moon is feeling for themselves, through the description of her body language, actions, and changing size, and this makes the story more powerful. Though the sun harshly puts the moon down, the put-downs appear only once, early on in the book, and the rest of the book focuses on the impact and on healing from it. It does not feel too negative, but rather understanding and then uplifting.
One small thing that was slightly jarring for me was when the moon and the women gave each other gifts. The gifts were not mentioned again, and I could not see the reason behind them or the symbolism; for me, they briefly interrupted the story flow and did not hold any emotional meaning, as the rest of the text did. There were also a few small telling words that I could have done without, and when Round Arms dried the moon's tears I hadn't realized that the moon had been crying. I'm also not sure that I like the idea that the moon is changing shape each month because she's been insulted. But these are minor points; overall, the text flows beautifully and is powerful in both what it says and how it says it.
The positive messages in this book are rarely ever blatant or telling; most are successfully woven into the tapestry of a modern folktale that is clearly influenced by Native American tales. The format fits the story well. The text also shows how women and girls can (and often do) come together to support each other, and help each other to heal. This is a woman/girl-positive story, with strong female characters--something we need a lot more of. There is also a helpful male comet who introduces the moon to her new earth friends, so males also have a positive role.
Hodson's art is stylized, also clearly based on Native American art but with a modern twist. The illustrations are beautifully rendered using acrylic paint, handmade paper, wallpaper, color pencils, gesso, and ink, and feel like a mixture of paper collage and painting. Characters, objects, and some setting are outlined with thin black lines, and Native-American-like patterns incorporating geometric shapes and varied colors appear on both the setting and characters--all aesthetically working together, almost like a giant quilt. At times paper cut-outs are obvious, overlapping others. Hodson's use of partial shadow around the characters and some objects add to this feeling of flatness or paper cut-outs, and also make them jump out from the page. He also uses highlights and shadows within the painted characters, most especially in their faces and hands, which give them some depth, even while the exterior shadows make them appear flat.
Hodson uses both cool pastels and richer warm hues in his palette, and it works well. The moon stands out in every illustration as her pastel blues, purples, and light yellow are highlighted against darker, warmer backgrounds. Her pastel colors and features make her appear a gentle character. The moon, while in the sky, is pictured as a figure enclosed within a green and blue circle border, with yellow spirals of light on the inside. While in the sky, there is a visible carpet of stars that she travels along that the writer called her "skypath." When the moon comes down to earth, she appears as a figure without the circle border; this makes her more accessible and easier to identify with. Characters have good body language, appropriate to their feelings and the story text; the sun looks appropriately aggressive and angry, and is painted with jagged orange streaks of light like lightning, big teeth, and angry eyes, and is painted much more vibrantly and larger than the moon when she eclipses him.
The setting has an almost surreal-like quality to it, yet it works beautifully and also feels appropriate to the storytelling text. The skies have gradual, blended hue changes, sometimes so gradual it's hard to see it. The women and the moon (once she's drunk her tea) are all smiling, happy characters, the moon clearly getting happier as time goes on, and this is uplifting.
The illustrations all bleed right to the edges of the pages, and vary between one per page and one per spread, with most illustrations taking up a full spread. Each illustration or spread features a side panel border with a Native American-like pattern on the side, and the changing cycle of the moon. The art is also inclusive; both native women and women from other cultures are featured.
The text and the illustrations are seamless; they work together as if crafted by the same person with the same vision. They both have a strong Native-American influence, and yet both also have a modern and North American flavor to them. The text and the illustrations build on each other; neither overshadows the other.
There is a bonus section included at the back of the book that teachers, parents, and curious kids will like, that was vetted for scientific accuracy by the Von Braun Astronomical Society. The section's entitled "For Creative Minds," and includes information and activities such as Moon Observations, Native American names for full moons (by season), Edible Moon Cookies Project, Viewing the Phases of the Moon Project, a graphic of moon phases as it orbits around the earth, and a brief but thoughtful paragraph on bullies. It also mentions that there are links for more moon activities and dealing with bullying on the SylvanDell website.
How the Moon Regained Her Shape is both entertaining and a great tool on how to deal with the impact of bullying or emotional abuse, and how to build self esteem and confidence and belief in oneself. It encourages readers not to hold onto negative comments, but instead to seek out their friends, to seek out positive messages about themselves and to listen to them, and to build up their self esteem and hold onto their self worth. This book can spark positive discussion and bring about a greater understanding of bullying or emotional abuse and its impact. If you've ever experienced bullying, emotional abuse, or felt put-down, or know someone who has, pick up this book. You won't regret it. Highly recommended.
Awards update: Ben Hodson won a Benjamin Franklin Award for this book’s artwork in 2007. How the Moon Regained Her Shape won a Book Sense Pick in 2006, a Children’s Choices for 2007 award, and a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for 2007. The book was also a finalist for the Oregon Reading Association’s 2009 Patricia Gallagher Picture Book Award.
-Added May 2007
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