Marianne Mitchell’s Maya Moon
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Traditional Mesoamerican Legend about the Moon’s Phases
There is something gently beautiful, pleasantly surprising, and softly humorous about this retelling of an old pourquoi tale, which explains why the moon changes sizes throughout the month. The distinctive illustrations take on the old-time feel of colored woodcuts, while the characters appear larger than life, sturdy and substantial.
The dilemma of Maya Moon occurs not while she is in the sky, but in her own home. At night, we learn, “There was once a time when the moon was always round and full.” Every night, Maya Moon, a round yellow sphere with full lips and rouged cheeks, “bathed the world with her beautiful light.” Like any third shift worker, however, at the end of the night, “When morning painted the sky with pink and yellow,” she wants nothing more than to return home to her “big, cozy bed.”
Therein lies her problem. A turtle, drawn to perfectly express the sort of slow, plodding schnorer who would break into someone else’s cave and take a siesta in their bed, has broken into Maya Moon’s cave, and is taking a siesta in her bed. Maya is only slightly less freaked out than you or I would be upon finding an unexpected visitor asleep in our private rooms. “You can’t sleep here,” she tells Turtle. “Leave my bed.” And Turtle does, slowly.
But the next night, Turtle is back, and this time he’s brought a friend. “Your bed is so big and cozy,” Turtle insists.
“You can’t sleep here,” Maya reminds him. “Leave my bed.
But the next night, Turtle is back, with two friends. And now, even after dispatching the unwanted guests, Maya can’t sleep. The violation is so great that her mental state is affected. She calls upon the rain god for help, but even he cannot devote his power to guarding her bed, and eventually, “Turtle was back, and now there were four,” a situation so horribly disturbing that Maya Moon can’t even try to sleep.
“Her trouble filled the cave. They buzzed like insects. They would not let her rest. She ran back and forth until she fell to pieces,” leading, of course, to the solution to her problems. In segments, Maya Moon can be in two places at once. Some of her pieces can remain at home, in her cave, keeping away any errant turtles, while some of her pieces can go up into the sky, to bathe “the world with her beautiful light.” The constant transition seems to confuse the turtles, keep Maya Moon’s bed safe, and, of course, explain the phases of the moon to ancient peoples.
The repetition in the text, along with the simple language and the ever-increasing number of turtles, make Maya Moon an excellent read-aloud book for young children, as well as a good choice for beginning readers. The dark background of the illustrations, the unusual landscape, and the themes, at once accessible (strangers in the house!) and foreign (turtles in the bed!) come together to create a compelling picture book.
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