Marianne J. Dyson

Review of How the Moon Regained Her Shape

Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, February 19, 2006 (Minor update April 9, 2006)

How the Moon Regained Her Shape is a charming folk tale that uses the Moon as a character to show how compliments from friends can heal the insults of bullies. The Moon starts out full and happy. Then she passes across the face of the Sun, and he yells at her to get out of the way. She reacts by shrinking until she is a "sliver." Then a comet tells her to go visit a woman on Earth. This woman explains that the Sun has a bad temper and is sometimes cruel. She takes her to see an artist and some rabbits who explain how they appreciate her light. The Moon grows larger after hearing these compliments. Then the woman and the Moon join a hundred women in a dance and song. The Moon and women exchange gifts. The Moon returns to the sky happy again.

The story is appealing and the illustrations are simply gorgeous. Unfortunately, the sequence of events is scientifically backwards, and I fear will cause confusion if the reader attempts to match it up with the Phases of the Moon diagram in the corner of the pages and in the back of the book. The story begins with the Moon eclipsing the Sun. The word eclipse is not used or explained in the back of the book, which I found rather odd since many other terms such as "gibbous" and "blue moon" that have nothing to do with the story are included. A solar eclipse only happens when the Moon is new. The phase just before this is crescent waning, not full as implied in the story. The phase following this is crescent waxing, not shrinking to a sliver. So the whole idea of the Moon shrinking because of an insult from the Sun after an eclipse is completely out of phase with the real phases of the Moon. I am not familiar with the Native American folk tale that this is based on, but the description fits a lunar eclipse better than a solar eclipse, and I wonder if perhaps there was some misunderstanding in adapting it? Lunar and solar eclipses are always paired and happen two weeks apart. In other words, after a solar eclipse, two weeks before or after (but not both) there will be a lunar eclipse (this year and next, the lunar comes first and then the solar, in 2004 and 2005 the solar came first and then the lunar). Many of these eclipses are partial and solar eclipses are only seen across a small part of Earth. A lunar eclipse fits the story better because the Moon would start out full, then go dark and be red with embarrassment, then shrink to a sliver and go dark as a new Moon and eclipse the Sun. The people on Earth would be very upset and certainly want to encourage the Moon to get out of the Sun's way. After the visit to Earth, the Moon would move out of the way and grow to a crescent, then half, then be full again and not be eclipsed again when it was full (for another six months). This is the sequence shown in the illustrations.

Having the comet drop by for a visit was a clever and astronomically correct idea that was also beautifully illustrated.

The song had no rhythm or rhyme. I assume this is an artifact of translation, but I admit I was disappointed. What I didn't understand is why Moon and Sun and Earth were always written in small letters. In all my nonfiction writing and by the Chicago Manual of Style, astronomical proper names are capitalized. In this story, with the Moon as a person, it is even more appropriate.

The "For Creative Minds" section in the back is basically a glossary of lunar terms that are not in the book. I had several nitpicks with the definitions. It states that it takes the Moon about 29.5 days to "orbit around the earth." The orbital period or revolution is actually 27.3 days, but because the Earth moves in its orbit around Sun while the Moon goes around the Earth, the Moon has to "catch up" to get back to the same "noon-to-noon" place relative to the Earth. That is called the rotation period and is 29.5 days. So it would be better to say it is 29.5 days from new Moon to new Moon rather than the time it takes to orbit around the Earth (that is 27.3 days). Also, it says that the crescent Moon is between new and half and is "C" shaped either waxing or waning. This is true only if you move between hemispheres of the Earth during the month. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, then the waxing Moon is a backwards "C" and the waning Moon is a "C." In several definitions it talks about the Moon pointing to the rising or setting Sun. I think children (and most adults!) may have a hard time understanding what that means. The Moon does not point anywhere. It reflects sunshine, and the fact that we see that light means it is pointing at us! (Light travels in a straight line.) A full Moon is "pointing" at Earth because we are between it and the Sun. Yet we can't see the Sun at night, and children are going to wonder how the Moon can be pointing at something they can't see. Parents might use a flashlight as the Sun with the Moon ball behind but slightly higher than the Earth ball to show how this works. The Moon ball is dark only when it is directly lined up in the shadow of the Earth ball — that is an eclipse. The list of the Native American names for the full moons was interesting. I hadn't seen that before and am inspired to learn more.

The "Directions for Projects" is basically a coloring activity. Though I fail to see what color mixing has to do with the phase of the Moon, anything that gets kids to think about science is okay with me. The "Phases of the Moon" chart correctly shows the north pole of the Earth in the center — a nice touch that most illustrators don't include. The illustrations in this book are truly outstanding. I would love to have this illustrator for one of my books! In the caption, it talks about the "back" side of the Moon. The text is correct, but I wish the proper term "far" side had been introduced instead.

I give this book 1 point for the usefulness of the illustrations, 1 point for a new way to perk interest in the Moon, 1 point for readability, 1 point for an interesting set of characters, a half point for the science included at the back of the book, and dock a point for the story sequence not lining up with the real lunar cycle. The total is therefore 4.5 points. How the Moon Regained Her Shape is an interesting folk tale with a good message about the healing power of friends, but that is unfortunately out of phase with the real lunar cycle. Rating: Okay.

Title: How the Moon Regained Her Shape
Author: Janet Ruth Heller
Illustrator: Ben Hodson
Ages: 6-10
Number of Pages: 32
Format: hardback
Publisher: Sylvan Dell
Date: 2006
Retail Price: $15.95
ISBN: 0-97649435

Connect: Twitter Facebook