It’s been a gorgeous week of moon-watching and, according to the premise of Shelley Leedahl’s most recent picture book… possibly being watched.
Leedahl writes “for all ages” although until now I was familiar only with her non-fiction for adults through which I’ve long admired her appreciation of nature. But I’m also a grown-up fan of picture books (and the moon).
Beautifully illustrated by Aino Anto (on over-sized smooth-as-glass pages), The Moon Watched it All is the story of an orphaned boy, shoo’d away and unwanted by everyone he knows… a gentle soul who finds shelter in a chicken coop and who is eventually befriended by an elderly woman who lives alone and talks regularly to the moon.
My kind of people.
It’s also about loneliness. And how loneliness has no age, and family-like bonds can form in surprising ways and circumstances.
Leedahl is so good at not only writing FOR all ages, but about all ages.
The elderly woman in the story (“in a time before this time”) has been abandoned (it seems) by her children and her husband is ‘gone’. She takes comfort in nature, especially the moon, which is her ‘elder’, her counsel, the thing she clings to. The boy stays hidden for some time, fending for himself, and I like that Leedahl chose this path for him, showing the parallel between the two, that both are alone and abandoned but both are also capable on their own, that their coming together isn’t out of cloying necessity. Because the woman does eventually discover the boy and gives him a home and he’s helpful around the place and the reader can finally exhale with the rightness of it all but Leedahl doesn’t treat this with the expected sentimentality of ‘happy endings’. These are very much two different people building a life together… quietly, simply, respectfully, and with a silent gratitude the reader can hear loud and clear.
What a happy trip it would be to chat with a child as the book is read aloud, to ask questions, like why did no one want the boy and how must he have felt not only losing his mother, but then being abandoned and when he was living by his wits in the woods, what did he eat? (answer: “what the birds left after their fill of crusts and corn and seeds” ) and how did he feel in that chicken coop — and how did the chickens feel??? — and why was the woman so connected to the moon and what would have been the hardest part for the boy and the woman as they formed this new life as a family…
Because what Leedahl does best is tell a story that makes you actually sit up and take notice, to think about people… of all ages, and circumstances.
Which is so much more than telling a story.