Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: How the Moon Regained Her Shape, by Janet Ruth Heller

Moon.phpI’m so excited!  So many people have responded to my request for books to review.  Sadly, some of the books I received weren’t ideal for our family, and I’ve also had a frustrating time downloading a few due to poor bandwidth (don’t ask, but we’re moving soon, which should fix the problem!).

One of the books that we’ve managed to enjoy so far was Janet Ruth Heller’s How the Moon Regained Her Shape (2006:  Sylvan Dell Publishing).

*** A Bit About the Book

Although this is a book “about” bullying and self-esteem, don’t worry – Janet neatly avoids Mistake #1:  Tossing in Values.   The message of the story flows very naturally from the characters and incidents that unfold.

I admit, I’m a bit biased because Janet sent me a private link to the publisher’s website where we could listen to the story and read along in English and Spanish (we only listened to the English).  I don’t know if the reader was Janet herself, but really, it was very well read, with great dramatic effect.

It’s always nice being read to, even at my age. :-)

I listened to and read the story by myself once, and then called Gavriel Zev over.  He’s always willing to stare at a computer screen.  He was riveted all the way through as well.

The plot of How the Moon Regained Her Shape revolves around the main character of the moon, who, bullied by the sun, shrinks down to earth to wander around until she finally turns up some true, loyal friends.

*** What Did We Like Best?

There’s so much to choose from here.  This story will make you smile.  The art is vivid and the storyline memorable – what more could you ask for from a kids’ book?

I personally liked the running theme of friendship in the story, but what truly makes the book stand out is the fabulous and unique artwork by illustrator Ben Hodson.  If you take a look through his other books, you’ll see that this style isn’t typical of him, but reflects the same Native-American sensibility as the book itself.

The images in this book look like intricate 3-D papercuts… honestly, I have no idea how they were done, but they really drive home the idea that pictures and the words must work together to weave a compelling story.  Here, they do.

The book is clearly a professional production:  well-written, edited, and the text flows around the full-bleed images in a way that few self-published books can mimic.  The colour palette of the book is earthy but bright, reflecting a vaguely Native-Southwestern influence that doesn’t overwhelm the universality of the story.

*** What Didn’t I Love?

This book wasn’t completely perfect.  The major issue I noticed was that, at the end of the book, the connection drawn between the changing “self-esteem” / size of the moon and the phases of the moon in nature seemed sort of tossed into the second-last line.  It doesn’t feel like this conclusion flows naturally from the story within the book itself.

Second, a small issue with the art.  At one point, as the moon finds friends and starts to feel better about herself, the text says she “laughed and grew larger.”  Then, you turn the page and she’s still small, much smaller than the woman, Round Arms, who accompanies her.  She remains visually the same size even as her ego is bolstered further.

I also felt that the book’s title was awkward – and kind of inaccurate. 

True, it hints stylistically at a legend and that is indeed what the book delivers.  But because we’re learning about the moon’s cyclical phases, it seems like we ought to know that the moon didn’t really “regain” her shape permanently at all.

There were actually two themes crammed into the book – one about bullying and one about phases of the moon (in keeping with Sylvan Dell’s focus on nature publishing for kids).  These two themes are not entirely comfortable bedfellows, but happily, neither one interferes with the skilful storytelling… which, ultimately, is all that really counts.

Being Sylvan Dell, there are a few pages stuck in the back with educational content and activities for further investigation.  I usually feel that a) books can do without this section, and b) kids don’t really give a whit about it.  But if adding this material helps the books find a home in libraries and classrooms, so be it.

I’d recommend this book for ages 6-8, give or take a year or two, depending on the kids.

How the Moon Regained Her Shape could easily serve as a springboard for conversation and exploration of phases of the moon, role of the moon / Earth Science, Native peoples and legends, friendship, self-esteem or bullying.  Or, you could just grab a couple of kids and curl up with it as a cozy bedtime read.  Sometimes, a book is just a book – and that’s good enough for me.

Do you have a book you’d like me to read with my kids and share with readers?  Read my guidelines carefully first, please!


  1. Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for this thorough review of my book. I'm delighted that you and your family enjoyed the story. I was badly bullied when I was in elementary school, and I wrote this book to help other bullied children so that they would not have to suffer as much as I did. How the Moon Regained Her Shape won four national awards. Illustrator Ben Hodson won a Benjamin Franklin Award for this book’s artwork in 2007. How the Moon Regained Her Shape also won a Book Sense Pick (2006), a Children’s Choices award (2007), and a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards (2007). The book was also a finalist for the Oregon Reading Association’s 2009 Patricia Gallagher Picture Book Award.

    Thank you again for reviewing my book. Best wishes for 2014!


  2. Jennifer, I have written a YA novel, "Chicken Legs" which is getting five star reviews on Amazon. It is self-published but more directed to a middle school/high school audience. I'm confident in the book. It's professionally edited. But one more good review would be wonderful. I doubt if your kids would be the ones to read it to, though. Still interested? You can click on a sample on Amazon. First three and half chapters.

  3. Doug: Even though it's not appropriate for my kids' ages, here's a link to your book, Chicken Legs, so readers can take a look as well. I only skimmed a bit but I was impressed with what I did see of a) how true you were to the time period and b) how well you stuck with the narrator's POV.
    Good luck with this book, and all your future writing endeavours!


As always, I love to hear from you.