Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cynthia Rylant's Long Night Moon

[Note: This review is used by permission of its author, Beverly Slapin, and may not be posted elsewhere without permission of the author.]

Rylant, Cynthia, Long Night Moon, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Simon & Schuster, 2004. Unpaginated, color illustrations; preschool-2.

Rylant begins Long Night Moon with this: “Long ago Native Americans gave names to the full moons they watched throughout the year. Each month had a moon. And each moon had its name…” Together with the artist’s description of the author’s “tribute to the Native American tradition of naming the full moons” as “lyrical” and “magic,” and the CIP data describing Long Night Moon as “Indians of North America—Fiction,” unwary teachers may be led to believe that this book has something to do with Indians. It does not. Rather, Rylant, whose ethnicity we might safely assume is not Native American, assigns her own imaginative names and behaviors to twelve of the full moons in a year: “In January the Stormy Moon shines…on a wild wolf’s back.” “In July the Thunder Moon…listens to the clouds beat their drums.”

In the excitement of writing kiddie-poetry about moons and wild wolves and drumbeats, Rylant may not have noticed that the thirteen full moons in the lunar year—by which traditional peoples reckoned the seasons—do not coincide with the twelve months in the Roman year.

The two-page spreads—charcoal, pencil and pastel scenes of a house and surrounding countryside in blues, purples, greens and grays—contain visual markers to lend continuity to the poem: a woman holding a baby, a small house, gazebo, telephone poles, fence, large tree, smaller trees. So what are we to make of two polar bears sleeping in March in the hollow of the big tree right outside the fence?

I can just see classroom teachers making a list of “Indian moons” on the chalkboard, teaching young students to make paper-and-feather necklaces featuring their favorite “Indian moons” or make up their own “Indian moon” names based on their own experiences (e.g., “rollerblading moon”). This kind of thing gives me a headache.—Beverly Slapin


Anonymous said...

Randy Russel's article suggests that some Alonquin Native American tribes did, in fact, assign names such as "Snow Moon" to the full moon that appeared sometime near February. Can you reconcile Russel's claims with your belief that Rylant simply "assigns her own imaginative names and behaviors to twelve of the full moons in a year"?

Debbie Reese said...


I'll need more information about Randy Russel... What is the title of his article, and where was it published? With that info I can locate the article.


Andrea said...

Hi Debbie,

I forgot to include the title and link to Randy Russel's article concerning Alonquin Native American tribes' practice of naming various full moons throughout the year. The article is entitled "The Many names for the Full Moon" and is located through the following URL:


Thank you for looking into this!

-First-Grade Teacher