Archive for January 23rd, 2019

by Sam Juliano

               Moon, high and deep in the sky
               Your light sees far,
               You travel around the wide world,
               and see into people’s homes.      – Hymn to the Moon, Rusalka, (1901)

Grace Lin’s lustrous A Big Mooncake for Little Star compellingly recalls the 1940 Caldecott Medal winning Many Moons by James Thurber and Louis Slobodkin  and a far more recent picture book by Ida Perle,  The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House.  Though each of the three books in this equation yield fantastical propensities and designate a central role to our oft-referenced celestial neighbor, so prominently featured in song, poetry and art (Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, perhaps most famously of all) they are markedly different.  Addy’s especially incandescent moon  pops up anywhere and everywhere, and even comes close to being held, a desire Princess Lenore demanded of her father in Slobodkin’s classic.  The moon in Lin’s book is symbolic in a culinary sense, but one that craftily documents the changes phases for children who might benefit with an appealing fantastical explanation before being eased into the astronomical truth.  For adult readers it is an utter delight and a sly wallowing in a fantastical premise.  A Big Mooncake for Little Star is a story that that is said to reflect Chinese stories about the moon.  In an interview the author explained one story that inspired her book – that of the rabbit that lives on the moon. According to Chinese legend, if you tell the rabbit a wish, he will whisper it to the moon goddess who may grant it.

The book’s sleek black base is what will invariably attract the attention of readers young and old.  The choice has a three-fold allure:  first, it accentuates any other color, especially yellow for incomparable contrast, secondly it exhibits a natural kinship with imaginary outer space narrative, and lastly it emboldens a sense of immediacy, giving the book an otherworldly visual scheme, transporting the viewer from the domestic surroundings where the events are played out to a limbo, where reality shares a claim with the surreal for center stage.  Lin explains on the copyright page that “the illustrations for this book were done in Turner Design Gouache on Arches rag watercolor paper, and her application of luminous white typography is perhaps the most attractive in that department of any picture book released this past year.  With mother and daughter dressed in starry pajamas near a stove, the former equipped with oven mitts pulled out the flat Mooncake of the title.  The mother, concerned the baking will be undone by her daughter’s overindulgence tells her:  Now, Little Star, your Mooncake took us a long time to bake, so let’s see if you can make it last awhile.  Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?  The child answers “Yes Mama!” but veteran readers might be thinking about the little chicken in David Ezra Stein’s Caldecott Honor winning Interrupting Chicken, which documented a litany of false promises.  Still, with their garb fully attuned to each other one might be loathe to thing is such terms.  In moon-shaped and colored vignettes Little Star retired to her teeth brushing, face washing and bed-snuggling, the latter with a book and and stuffed bunny before losing consciousness in horizontal mode, but as most readers would have a hard time not expecting she wakes up in the middle of the night. (more…)

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