By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Foley, Greg. Willoughby & the Moon. Harper, 2010. Ages 5-7. Foley’s second picture book is another surreal peek into a child’s world of wonder. The little boy Willoughby can’t get to sleep because the night is just too dark. Where has all the moonlight gone? Then he notices a glow beneath his closet door. When he investigates, he finds a scared snail on top of the moon, searching for the silver ball he’s lost. The illustration showing the brave boy willing to help his new friend is worth the price of the book. Using the snail’s map, the two embark on a journey through the moon and eventually, Willoughby returns to his very own bed. The stunning illustrations, with their deep blacks and luminous silvers, make this a stylish and unusual bedtime book worth savoring.
More Moon Stories and Poetry …
and share your favorites by leaving a comment .

  • Bruchac, Joseph. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back. Ages 7+ Penguin, 1992. Poems from Native American legends celebrate the seasons of the year.
  • Burleigh, Robert. One Giant Leap. Penguin, 2009. Ages 7+ Burleigh uses dramatic free verse to give children an engaging view of what it was like to land on the moon, as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong did. Mike Wimmer’s oil paintings help enliven this exciting true story.
  • Costa, Deborah. Hanukkah Moon. Lerner, 2007. Ages 6-8.  When Isobel goes to stay with Aunt Luisa, an artist from Mexico, she is surprised to see a banner that reads “Feliz Januca ” hanging over the fireplace. Her aunt will gently open her eyes to a different way of celebrating Hanukkah and the time of the new moon. Warm, glowing watercolor and crayon illustrations evoke the affection that develops between the child and her aunt.
  • Dayrell, Elphinstone. Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky. Ill. by Blair Lent. Houghton Mifflin, 1990. All ages. Humorous African folktale tells how the sun and water were once friends who both lived on earth. But when water comes to visit, sun and his wife, moon, are crowded out of their home and land in the sky.
  • Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings. Houghton, 2007. All ages. Florian’s inventive poems put a fresh spin on the night sky. The brief, witty lines amuse, inform, and sometimes even swirl, with Florian’s bright, playful paintings sure to please curious children.
  • Henkes, Kevin. Kitten’s First Full Moon. Harper, 2004. Ages 3-6. Why not experience the full moon from the perspective of a silly kitten? Deceptively simple and visually alluring, Henkes’ rhythmic story of a kitten who confuses the full moon with a bowl of milk is a treat for young ones. Use this to teach young ones visual literacy; have them look for shapes and patterns, just as the kitten does.
Lewis, Naomi. Illus. by P. J. Lynch. East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Candlewick, 2005. Ages 8-12. A brave young woman must venture to a kingdom beyond the moon to rescue her husband from a troll. This edition is a stunning marriage of enchanting, detailed watercolor illustrations and a story that continues to hold an audience spellbound. Lewis, the masterful writer/translator who recently died, provides an interesting background for this Norwegian fairy tale.
  • Thurber, James. Thirteen Moons. Ages 8+ Thurber’s classic tale of the princess who wants the moon and the wise jester who offers it to her.
  • Yolen, Jane. The Moon Ribbon and Other Tales. Crowell, 1976. Ages 8-12. The title story is a haunting variation of Cinderella,  in which young Silva, mistreated by her cruel stepmother and two stepsisters, manages  to defend herself by making use of the ribbon of hair her actual mother gave her. The miraculous ribbon of hair transforms into a river and then a road, which leads her to the moon lady. This special helper teaches her that she has the power to choose to whom she gives her heart. The heart cannot be taken by force.
  • Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Penguin, 1987. Ages 5-8. Classic read-aloud features a girl and her father going out on a wintry moonlit night in search of owls.  Schoenherr’s watercolor washes add  magic to the quiet adventure.


Wisdom from a Spider?

Water drops on spider web

Image via Wikipedia


Didactic tales do not reach children. Over the centuries, storytellers, rabbis, and Christ himself  have relied on better tricks. You have to give your audience an entertaining story, with images that linger in the mind. Many have used the  image of the spider to evoke desirable character traits such as industriousness, perseverance, cleverness, or cunning. In West Africa, griots spin tales featuring the humorous spider/man Anansi, who  often shows children what they should not do. Every child can relate to Anansi!
What are your favorite spider stories? Here are some of mine:

Great Spider Read-alouds from Many Cultures

Arkhurst, Joyce. The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown, 1992. Entertaining and accessible collection of six Anansi tales retold by a NYPL librarian/storyteller. My favorites include “How Spider Got a Thin Waist,” which shows the result of Spider’s greed; (2) “How Spider Got a Bald Head,” which features some hot baked beans in an unexpected spot; and (3) “ How the World Got Wisdom,” which reveals why no one person or culture holds all the answers.

Badoe, Adwoa. Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories. Illus. by Baba Wague Diakite. Badoe’s witty retellings of ten Ananse folktales are enlivened by Diakite’s boldly patterned illustrations.

Bruchac, Joseph, Ka-Hon-Hes and Michael Caduto. Native American Stories. Fulcrum, 1991. Collection focuses on the many lessons nature can teach humans. See the Muskogee/Creek myth “How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun,” a story simple enough for children to retell.

Cronin, Doreen. Diary of a Spider. Illus. by Henry Bliss. HarperCollins, 2005. Ages 5-8. Spider keeps a diary, allowing young readers to see the world according to arachnids. Cronin’s fresh, funny story shows the engaging protagonist at spider school, at sleepovers, and in the throes of friendship — in this case, among different species.

Cummings, Pat. Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale. Holt, 2002.  Ages 6-8. When Ananse the spider hears that whoever guesses the name of the daughter of the village chief will get to marry her and get half the kingdom, he’s sure he’ll be the winner. But tricky Lizard has his own scheme, and this pourquoi tale reveals why lizards always stretch their necks. Cummings skillfully employs humor and lively, bright watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations to render a vivid West African setting for this story she says she found in a bookstore in Ghana.

Dewey, Jennifer Owings.  Once I Knew a Spider.Walker, 2002. Ages 6-8. This gentle, beautifully told true story features two mothers, one human and the other a spider. It begins when a spider makes its home in the windowsill of an expectant mother’s home.  As the year progresses, the young woman observes a delicate egg sac. Miraculously, the orb weaver survives the fall and winter, and stays with her eggs until spring.  Although the story is a little longer than most read-alouds, it is a powerful reminder of the magic in our actual world, and how it can touch our lives. An afterword provides additional information on spiders.

Haley, Gail E. A Story A Story: An African Tale. Aladdin, 1980. Caldecott winner presents a stunning match of bold illustrations and the humorous Anansi folktale of how stories spread throughout the world.

Howitt, Mary. Illus. by Tony DiTerlizzi. Spider and the Fly. Simon & Schuster, 2002.  Ages 6+ DiTerlizzi’s silvery, stylish illustrations, which won a Caldecott Honor, put a fresh spin on a trite old poem. Using black-and-white gouache and pencil drawings that get reproduced in silver-and-black duotone, the illustrator has created paintings with a perfectly spooky quality.  The vain, naive Ms. Fly is shown with a silly flower umbrella and flapper attire, while the slick spider is dressed in a silk robe and six slippers. Darkly humorous details foreshadow the fly’s demise.

Kimmel, Eric. Anansi Goes Fishing. Illus. by Janet Stevens. Ages 6-9. That cunning Anansi tries to trick Turtle into catching a fish for his dinner, but Turtle is too smart to fall for that — and ends up with a free meal. This folktale explains the origin of spider webs. Also see Kimmel’s other Anansi tales.

Max, Jill. Spider Spins a Story: Fourteen Legends from North America. Rising Moon, 1997. This fine collection of spider stories from many Indian nations includes “How the Spider Got its Web,”  “Osage Spider Story,” the wise and lovely “Legend of the Loom,” and the Cherokee legend “Spider, the Fire Bringer.”

McDermott, Gerald. Anansi the Spider. Henry Holt, 1972. Ages 6-8. When the clever spider Anansi runs into trouble, he calls for help from his six industrious sons. McDermott’s simple, memorable pourquoi tale shows how the moon came to be in the sky. The boldly patterned illustrations won the Caldecott Medal.

Musgrove, Margaret. The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth. Blue Sky, 2001. In this folktale from Ghana, a wise and wondrous spider teaches two Ashanti weavers to incorporate bright, intricate patterns in the cloth they fashion.

Pae, Wod-Ldy and Margaret H. Lippert.  The Talking Vegetables.
The villagers plant a garden, but Spider doesn’t do his part. Finally, he tires of eating plain old rice and decides to help himself to the vegetables. But they won’t hear of it — and tell him so! This Liberian folktale  humorously shows the importance of working together to accomplish a goal.

White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web. HarperCollins. This endearing classic focuses on the friendship of Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider. Never has so much wisdom found its way into one small novel. No child should grow up without hearing this one.

Informational Books for Children Ages 6-9

Berger, Melvin. Spinning Spiders. HarperCollins, 2003. Berger provides a clear, lively introduction to spiders. The detailed illustrations by S.D. Schindler will enhance children’s understanding and appreciation of spiders’ varied features.

Glaser, Linda. Spectacular Spiders. Lerner, 1998.

Markle, Sandra. Outside and Inside Spiders. Atheneum, 1994.

———————Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders. Walker, 2008. In vivid but simple detail, Markle shows and tells about 14 species of spiders. Text is enhanced with mesmerizing, full-color photographs by various photographers, capturing such moments as the spiders guarding their young or catching a fly.

Power to the Picture Book

The recent New York Times article lamenting a so-called trend of parents pushing young children to abandon picture books in favor of chapter books missed a great opportunity to discuss self-destructive tendencies in the publishing world and the chain bookstores.

As a recently retired school librarian, I continue to devote a lot of time to children’s books. But rather than complain about the parents (and yes, there is too much of the parental pushiness the reporter noted), I would look first at the bookstores and the publishing industry itself. I can’t blame parents for not realizing the astounding variety and quality of picture books, in terms of both literary and artistic standards. Walk into any Borders or Barnes & Noble, and you are bombarded with the same old same old commercially oriented “stars” — the latest books by celebrities such as Bob Dylan (love ya, Bob, but you’re no master at children’s books)  and the endless array of books with tie-ins to toys, movies, and TV shows. The employees — if you can find them — rarely know much about children’s literature or child development. More and more, these stores offer the classics (Where the Wild Things Are, Make Way for Ducklings, The Little Engine That Could) and the trendy trash tied to toys and other products, but leave out many creative, noteworthy children’s books. Is it any wonder that wonderful picture books often go out of print? Some of them never even saw the light of day in the big chain stores.

Do bookstores really want to sell more books? Or just more of the same? If they would simply buy quality books, display, promote, and offer more story times, adults would become more aware of the choices that are fleetingly available. And if publishers would (1) lower prices for hardbacks and (2) offer many more picture books in paperback, they’d be selling more.

Even the layout of these stores no longer invites lingering, exploring, and discovering great children’s books. The Barnes & Noble in Wilmington, DE, for instance, has redesigned its large space to resemble a warehouse for selling the Nook. It feels intimidating now even to go inside. The local Borders store has reduced the seating in the children’s area, along with the quantity of picture books, audiobooks, and child-oriented CDs. A quick glance around either of these, but especially Borders, will yield plenty of bright colors — of Disney and Nickelodean products.

Do these people have a death wish? Smoke and mirrors won’t do. Children need books, lots of books, lots of beautiful, funny, gross, touching, well-written, memorable picture books! Push back, people. Look out for the interests of your children and everyone else. If you can’t buy books — preferably at independent bookstores —  go to the library. You’ll even find kind, knowledgeable people there who will lead you to the kinds of books you and, most importantly, your children really want. Don’t miss out on these priceless opportunities. They’ll be out the door before you know it.

Let’s hear it for such recently published books as …

Animal Crackers Fly the Coop by Kevin O’Malley. Walker, 2010.

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. Illus. by Jon Muth. Hyperion, 2010.

Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs. Illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky. Schwartz & Wade, 2010.

Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen. Illus. by David Small. Philomel, 2010.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade, 2010.

A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: A Forest of Poems by Deborah Ruddell. Illus. by Joan Rankin. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, 2009. Yes, it’s not that recent, but did you see this fabulous book in a chain bookstore?

And, finally, a humorous list for all those anxious parents referenced in the NYT article: 13 Ways to Raise a Nonreader.

Celebrating Imagination

Rappaport, Doreen. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.  John’s Secret Dreams. Hyperion, 2004.

John Lennon forever changed the scope and impact of rock ‘n’ roll. He was a rebel from the wrong side of town who dreamed of hitting it big. Yet, as he reached the pinnacle of fame and fortune, he resented its warped confines. When he met Yoko, his life seemed to open up. He became politically engaged, and as the Vietnam War raged on, he spoke out for peace. This powerful picture-book biography by a masterful nonfiction writer and award-winning illustrator invites children to follow their own dreams. Rappaport’s spare, sometimes poetic text flows with Collier’s lively cut-paper collage and watercolor art, which, in turn, illuminates well-chosen excerpts from John’s lyrics. Eerily, the last illustration zooms in on a single lit candle, surrounded by others — so evocative of the peace tower Yoko has established in Iceland in honor of John. October 9th, John would have turned 70. Remember and imagine peace.

More Picture Books that Celebrate the Power of Imagination

Ahlberg, Allan. The Pencil. Illus. by Bruce Ingman. Candlewick, 2008. Ages 5-7. What can an energetic pencil and a perky paintbrush do? Create a fun picture book, for one. But watch out for the evil eraser!

Alarcon, Francisco X. Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Sonar Juntos. Lee & Low, 2005. Ages 8+. Alarcon expresses his dreams of peace, community, and hope for the future in this lively bilingual collection of poems. The rhythmic poems are fresh, simple, and original, and are enhanced with Barragan’s dreamy, bright illustrations.

Banks, Kate. Max’s Words. Farrar, 2006. Ages 6-9. Max’s brothers collect things like coins and stamps. Max decides he’ll collect words. Starting with short, ordinary words, he progresses to the more sophisticated ones he discovers in the dictionary. His brothers, intrigued by Max’s collection, move the words around to make a story, which is illustrated with Kulikov’s artwork featuring  exaggerated facial expressions and odd perspectives.

Fleming, Candace. Clever Jack Takes the Cake. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks., 2010. Resourceful Jack bakes a beautiful cake for the princess’s 10th birthday party, but during his journey to the castle, he encounters a variety of sweet-toothed dangers. Fortunately, the princess is clever enough to appreciate his fine story. This is a delicious tale enhanced by Karas’ witty illustrations.

King, Stephen Michael. Milli, Jack, and the Dancing Cat. Penguin, 2004. Ages 5-8. Already out of print, this lively picture book is a charming celebration of creativity. Milli’s special gift is her ability to see the wild potential in ordinary objects. She can “take a straight piece of wire and give it a wiggle, or a simple square of cloth and set it dancing in the wind.” Yet, her own potential is untapped as she spends her days making the plain brown shoes the townspeople want. When  Jack and the dancing cat stroll into town, they offer her dancing lessons in exchange for new boots. This initiates in Milli a newfound freedom and courage to use her creativity. Her delightfully quirky inventions, brought to life with King’s lively watercolor illustrations, will delight children.

Levine, Arthur A. The Boy Who Drew Cats: A Japanese Folktale. Illus. by Frederic Clement. Dial, 1994. Ages 8+. Strange and powerful retelling of a Japanese folktale featuring a young boy who does not seem to belong anywhere. After his mother takes him to a monastery, he angers a monk who thinks he wastes time with his drawing. The other monk, though, gives him a special farewell gift and a message that will help the boy survive a frightening night. Clement’s haunting illustrations include calligraphy that relates to the unfolding events. The folktale serves to remind us to value each person’s unique gifts.

Nesbit, E. Abridged and illus. by Inga Moore. The Book of Beasts. Candlewick, 2001. The enchantment of this 100-year-old fairy tale lives on in this gloriously playful edition. Lionel, age 6, suddenly becomes king and while in his new abode, discovers an old book in which the illustrations come alive, and wild adventures ensue. If you cannot locate this edition, the original version is in Nesbit’s Book of Dragons, a fine collection that lacks illustrations but contains much magic.

Schroeder, Alan. In Her Hands : The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage. Lee & Low, 2009.  Although the sculptor Augusta Savage figured prominently in the Harlem Renaissance,  she is little known today. Schroeder’s fictional account of her childhood shows Savage playing in the red clay of her yard in Florida and later as her elders come to recognize her talent and encourage her to attend art school. An author’s note provides some interesting facts on this African American artist.  Bereal’s realistic illustrations evoke the touching aspects of the story.

Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, 2008. Ages 8+ Has a picture book ever expressed more than this one? The Caldecott-winning illustrator mines his boyhood memories of fleeing Warsaw after the Germans invaded in 1939, The family reaches Kazakhstan, where they survive with strangers in cramped, bleak quarters. One day, Father returns from the bazaar with a huge map of the world instead of bread. The boy and his mother react with quiet rage, but soon afterwards, the boy becomes enthralled with the map, and begins to imagine life in faraway, exotic-sounding places.  The illustrations burst with life and color as the boy feeds on his imagination. Use this picture book to entertain and to inspire, but also to enhance students’ interest in geography …  their understanding of immigration and war …  and, perhaps most of all, to illustrate the power of the imagination to sustain the soul.

Whitman, Walt. Illus. by Susan Roth. Nothing but Miracles: From Leaves of Grass. National Geographic, 2003.  Whitman relishes the simple pleasures in nature, on city streets, and at home in his poem, enlivened for children by Roth’s bright, whimsical collages.

Wood, Douglas. Nothing to Do. Penguin, 2006.  What to do when you have nothing on your calendar?  “I have heard . . . wonderful stories about taking off your shoes and walking through green grass. . . . Or making toy ships . . . and sailing them across a puddle.” This unusual story celebrates the time and freedom to wonder, to create, to slow down enough to appreciate the world’s small beauties. Halperin’s mixed-media illustrations, featuring images of  children hiking, sipping lemonade, and building a fort, evoke the story’s free-wheeling spirit.

Fairy Tales Reach the Heart

Prolific writer Jane Yolen is a passionate proponent of the role of traditional folk and fairy tales in the lives of children. In Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, she warned, “Our children are growing up without their birthright: the myths, fairy tales, fantasies and folklore that are their proper legacy. It is a serious loss.”

In the process of entertaining us, myths and folk literature perform four crucial functions, Yolen argues. They provide …

  1. a landscape of allusion
  2. insight into ancestral cultures
  3. a safe path for processing experience
  4. a framework for an individual’s beliefs and values

“When we … deprive [children] of the insights and poetic visions expressed in words that humans have produced throughout human history, we deny them – in the end – their own humanity.” We bequeath to them a dry and shallow culture.

While I agree all four functions are vital, I’d like to focus on the third and fourth roles, as they pertain to the education of the heart, which is so often neglected in our schools. As Yolen pointed out, “The best of the old stories spoke not just to the ears but to the heart as well.”

How do these old tales speak to the heart? They echo our fears, hopes, and losses. Most children aren’t conscious of their fear of abandonment, but they recognize it when they hear a story such as “Hansel and Gretel.” Folk literature explores and examines forces so fearsome as to seem almost insurmountable. Like Jack, children live in a world with giants. The tales give them tools to interpret their confusing lives. They invite young ones to envision a way to triumph over adversity, to succeed despite all obstacles. Dare to hope, the stories tell us.

There’s more. Children respond to the stark morality, the chiaroscuro of fairy tales. They understand it. They crave it. That’s why the sugary, Disney versions don’t have the same impact. G.K. Chesteron said, “If you really read the fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other – the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery tale.” In other words, you cannot get unless you give.

These stories reflect the human condition, in that they so often depict a condition of choice. The heroine chooses to venture “east o’ the sun and west o’ the moon” – and rescues her husband. Every choice has consequences. The wolf’s choice to climb down the chimney lands him in the pot of boiling water. Justice is served.  Every memorable story, Yolen wrote, “is about the working through evil in order to come at last to the light.”

Choose to lead young ones to these powerful old tales. They deserve no less.

A Few Recommended Folk and Fairy Tales … (Look for more in future posts.)

For Ages 4-6

Cousins, Lucy. Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales. Candlewick, 2009. Cousins  retells beloved classic fairy tales with simple, direct language, complemented by her large, expressive, bright gouache spreads. As in the traditional versions, poetic justice rings out loud and clear in this collection, which includes “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Musicians of Bremen,” “Henny Penny,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,”  “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and “The Enormous Turnip.”

Aylesworth, Jim. The Gingerbread Man.

———————Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

———————Tale of Tricky Fox.

———————Aunt Pitty Patty’s Piggies.

For Ages 6-8

Andersen,  Hans Christian; Alderson, Brian, retel. Thumbelina. Candlewick, 2009.

Bruchac, Joseph. The First Strawberries.

——————— The Story of the Milky Way.

Bryan, Ashley. Ashley Bryan’s African Tales, Uh-Huh and The Lion, the Ostrich Chicks, and Other African Tales.

Lunge-Larsen, Lise. The Troll With no Heart in his Body. Houghton, 2003.

For Ages 8 and up

Andersen, Hans Christian. The Snow Queen. Retold by Naomi Lewis. Candlewick, 2009. Beautifully retold and illustrated version of Andersen’s lengthy, memorable tale of  a boy whose heart is stolen by the evil Snow Queen and the brave girl who rescues him with the warmth of her love.

Grimm, Brothers.  The Juniper Tree: and other Tales from Grimm. Jarrell, Randall and Lore Segal, ed. Il. by Maurice Sendak. Farrar, 2003.  Now classic collection includes 27 fairy tales, many of which are lesser-known tales, such as the striking title story. (Reissued)

Lewis, Naomi. Stories From the Arabian Nights. Random, 1990. While there are many versions of these stories, most don’t come near the beauty of these masterful retellings by Lewis.

Yolen, Jane. Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys. Yolen has retold folktales in which the hero uses his imagination or cleverness to resolve conflicts.

Yolen, Jane. Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls. Houghton, 2000. Yolen deftly retells fairy and folktales featuring heroines who solve problems by being brave, clever, or industrious.

Ellen Handler Spitz Reviews “The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales Of The Brothers Grimm” | The New Republic.



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