Book: Imani's Moon
Author: JaNay Brown-Wood
Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell
Age Range: 6-9
Imani's Moon is a new picture book by JaNay Brown-Wood and Hazel Mitchell about a little girl from the African Maasai tribe who is determined, after hearing stories from her mother, to touch the moon. Imani is the smallest child in her village, and is ridiculed by the larger children ("She's no higher than a lion cub's knee", etc). Every night, her mother "lift(s) her spirits with stories". The story of Olapa, goddess of the moon, in particular catches Imani's fancy. She tries various ways to get to the moon (climbing a tree, building wings, etc.). Eventually, after being inspired by seeing young warriors of the village perform a dance jumping dance of celebration, Imani tries jumping (and jumping, and jumping), and meets with success.
Imani's Moon is magical realism in picture book form. Imani's interactions with her mother, and the village children, are realistic. But, in addition to visiting the moon, she also talks with a snake and an owl (who both talk back). Some scenes are portrayed in the book as dream sequences, but the visit to the moon is shown straight-up. Imani jumps all day, higher and higher, against creatures who doubt her and taunt her, until, on her final jump, she "soar(s) through the night sky."
Of course Imani's Moon is also a demonstration of multiculturalism, giving young readers a window into life in a Maasai village. The unfamiliar setting, as well as Brown-Wood's detailed text, make Imani's Moon more a book for elementary school children than for preschoolers. Here's a snippet:
"That night Mama told Imani about Anansi, the small spider who captured a snake to gain a name for himself.
"Mama, do you really believe that a spider, so small and weak, could really capture a snake, so long and quick?" Imani asked.
"I do," answered Mama.
"Even if no one else believes it?" Imani asked.
"A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplished it," Mama said. "Imani, it only you who must believe."
Imani drifted to sleep and dreamed that she climbed to the top of the highest tree in her village, captured a snake, and made a name for herself."
As you can see, this passage (as with most of the book) has the timeless feel of a folktale. As with most folktales, there is strongly implied advice (e.g. taking on challenges). But by keeping the book focused entirely on Imani's story, the author avoids any feel of lecturing.
Mitchell's illustrations ("created with watercolor and graphite then over-painted digitally") are luminous and eye-catching. Imani is small and mild-featured. Her determination is quiet and gentle. Her expression as she jumps upward is quizzical, and ready for anything. The backgrounds in the pictures, particularly the night sky, convey a sense of wide space.
Imani's Moon is a book that answers the ever-louder call for diverse books. Though most kids reading this book in the US will not be able to relate directly to Imani's African village, many will welcome seeing a brave heroine with brown skin. And all kids will be able to relate to this tale of a tiny person who, by repeatedly trying, is able to accomplish and outside goal. Recommended, particularly for libraries.
Publisher: Mackinac Island Press (@Charlesbridge)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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