I have a copy of How the Moon Regained Her Shape now and am posting my thoughts today. Back in August of 2006, I received an email from Sylvan Dell Publishing, that described several of their books. The email subject line was "Science and Math through Literature for young children." I read thru the email, and saw there was a book listed there called How the Moon Regained Her Shape.
I requested a copy, and began a brief correspondence with an editor at Sylvan Dell Publishing. The book, she noted, was based on traditional Native stories, but not from a specific tribe or its stories. I replied that such books are a concern to me. There are too many books out there that "draw on" or are "based on" stories from an assortment of Native nations as though our ways are interchangeable. What this does is force-fit hundreds of nations into a single, stereotypical, image. It doesn't challenge people to move beyond a generic stereotypical image.
Reviewers like Heller's book because of its theme: bullying. The sun, in Heller's story, bullies the moon. In fact, there is a note on the final page of the book that says:
Bullies: In this story, the sun bullies the moon. A bully is someone who is mean or hurts other children either physically or verbally. Sometimes the bully acts this way to get something or to feel important. Children who are being bullied often need the help and support of their friends, just as the moon does in this story.As I read reviews and the author's note, I am reminded that fans of Touching Spirit Bear say its strength is that it helps kids learn and understand bullying and the consequences of bullying. The fact that it gets so much wrong about Tlingit culture is inconsequential--to them. The bullying theme is far more important---to them. Ironically, I think we can call this dismissal of Native objections to misrepresentation a form of bullying!
I anticipate that fans of How the Moon Regained Her Shape will say that its use to teach about the moon, or, to teach about bullying, are more important than the mess it makes of Native culture. They might even say that we Natives ought to feel good that our culture is used in such good ways.
Americans. Love. Indians. Or rather, some (most?) Americans love their imagined Indians. Real Native people that object to how Native peoples are portrayed? Not loved as much, if at all.
How the Moon Regained Her Shape is a success in the book world. The American Booksellers Association listed it as a "Book Sense Children's Pick" in 2006. It is listed in both, the "Accelerated Reader" and "Reading Counts" programs.
And you, teachers, should, too. For critique of the content, read Beverly Slapin's review.