Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beverly Slapin's Review of Janet Ruth Heller's HOW THE MOON REGAINED HER SHAPE

[Editor's Note: This review used by permission of Beverly Slapin, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]
Heller, Janet Ruth, How the Moon Regained Her Shape, illustrated by Ben Hodson. Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2006. Unpaginated, grades 1-3

Every time I say (or even think), “This is the stupidest book I’ve ever read,” along comes something even worse. Cosmic justice, maybe. Punishment for using hyperbole. 

From the jacket copy:
From the days of early humans, people have used folklore to explain why events of nature occur.
No. Oral stories are not just any old things made up by an individual on a whim; they are told and retold for many generations to document scientific and historical events, and to teach children and adults respect for the environment and their responsibilities in stewardship for the land. Teaching stories also contain lessons about safety, courage, and proper behavior.

From the jacket copy: 
Influenced by Native American folktales, this fascinating story explains the phases of the moon, while providing a life lesson for children as they observe how the moon was able to overcome adversity and build self-confidence.
No. There is no such thing as a “Native American folktale.” There are Hopi stories, Lakota stories, Abenaki stories, Anishinaabe stories. Stories belong to specific Native nations, or clans, families, or individuals within those nations. Moreover, I sincerely doubt that there has ever been an oral story about the moon “overcoming adversity and building self-confidence.” Certain elements of creation, such as Moon, Sun, Wind, Water, Fire, Earth, are sacred. They don’t overcome adversity because there is no adversity for them to overcome. They don’t build self-confidence because the need for “self-confidence” is a European-American cultural marker.

From the jacket copy:
After the sun insults her, the moon is very hurt and disappears—much to the chagrin of rabbits who miss their moonlight romps.
No. Sun and Moon do not behave that way towards each other; rather, in oral stories, their relationship with each other and with Earth are complementary. Although rabbits have been seen to romp, they mostly come out at dusk to mate and look for food. As prey animals with non-stereoscopic vision, lagomorphs tend to be pretty serious.

From the jacket copy:
With the help of her many friends and admirers, the moon regains her self-confidence until she is back to her full size.
No. The whole idea that Moon looks for wisdom among humans is disconnected from anything it purports to be based on. Even Disney, whose animal characters are pretty damned anthropomorphic, doesn’t have them coming to humans for “self-confidence.”

The artwork, if you really have to call it that, was done with acrylic paints, handmade papers, wallpaper, pencil crayons, gesso, ink, and glue on watercolor paper. The result is some kind of faux-Pueblo design elements (Moon looks kind of like Kokopelli without his, uh, flute) and the Indian characters (“Round Arms,” a kind of zaftig woman, and “Painted Deer,” a kind of artist who paints his face and wears feathers standing straight up) appear to have been executed by an Indian wannabe on happy pills.

I guess it could be said that “author,” “artist,” and “publisher” would have had to have astronomical chutzpah to bring this thing out. No, wait! Stop! I didn’t say that! What I meant was: “This is a pretty bad book.”

—Beverly Slapin

1 comment:

Quijotesca said...

From the jacket copy: “After the sun insults her, the moon is very hurt and disappears—much to the chagrin of rabbits who miss their moonlight romps.”

I know this is an old entry, but I feel inclined to point out that this is actually just a bit like a Hindu story in which Ganesha curses the moon because it laughed at him. If that's what gave the author the idea then, wow, that's a whole lot of appropriation, which is why I felt I had to say something.