The year was 1987. I had been teaching preschool for three years. I was immersed in children’s books, reading the great ones and the new ones. That was the year I became picky about books, because what I read aloud to children made all the difference in the world. I had mastered the art of stopping in the middle of reading to laugh, or cry, or to have an important conversation. Reading aloud and knowing good books had become ‘my thing.’
1987 was also the year Jane Yolen wrote Owl Moon. It won the coveted Caldecott Medal. It is that good.
The book transformed my reading, or perhaps it transformed me. I did far more than just read the words aloud. Children went on a hunt outdoors to find bits and pieces of nature in order to create our own Owl Moon mural. I remember showing children the illustrations and how to draw with a pencil before water coloring. I remember children breaking off pieces of pinecone to create the big wings of the owl.
This was something I had never done before, a major group art project based on a children’s book.
I hosted a family event at school at night. We went owling in the woods beyond our playground. It was very dark, it was wonderful. Children also made paper bag owls. Decades later, a child who had been in my class told me she still had her paper bag owl. Families still reminisce to this day about going owling.
This was completely new for me, hosting a major event for families based on a children’s book. It fueled my fire for good children’s books.
Fast forward to a few years ago. Jane Yolen was a guest speaker at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. The museum is dedicated to children’s book art, and often has authors as guest readers and speakers.
After her wonderful presentation, I had a chance to meet Jane Yolen. I told her about going owling, and how her book had made such a difference. We talked! I realized that people around us were silent, as our conversation was deep and true.
Jane Yolen and her talented author daughter Heidi (yes, the child in Owl Moon!) have written a new book this year. It is about a moon. Well, it is about far more than a moon. Who better to write a children’s book about a moon?
It’s been thirty-two years since Owl Moon was published. Yet, 2019 was just the right year for this book, A Kite for Moon. Fifty years ago, astronauts landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong made the event famous with his words. Jane Yolen makes the event more meaningful by writing what may have inspired many children like Neil. “A very small boy was flying his kite on the beach near his house. He looked up, at the moon.”
The story is simple, yet filled with hope and promise over many years. The boy never gives up sending a kite to the moon. Never. He works hard at his studies, he dreams, and he promises a visit. Words like waxed and waned, eclipsed, and math words like equations, keep children curious. They make teachers pause for spontaneous discussions and sidetracked lessons.
In the final pages of the book, the grown boy reaches the moon as an astronaut, yet his words carry the message he has always felt and worked hard for — “Hello Moon”, he said. “I’ve come for that visit.” And the whole world watched.
I have read this remarkable book only six times, and I feel fire and hope every single time. I can’t wait for the school year to start and read this book to the children.
Owl Moon took the children owling. I wonder where A Kite for Moon will take my class. A telescope to look at the moon at night? Whatever it is, I echo the dedication and tribute words in the book:
For Neil Armstrong, who showed us the way.