Catching the Moon. By Myla Goldberg. Pictures by Chris Sheban. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.
I Love My Pirate Papa. By Laura Leuck. Illustrated by Kyle M. Stone. Harcourt. $16.
Here are two deliciously watery fantasies for families with kids ages 3-7 – books that parents can enjoy as much as their children will. One is more poetic, the other more rollicking, and both feature a nice touch of unreality.
Catching the Moon lends a bit of surrealism to the notion of fishing. The never-named Fisherwoman sits on the pier at night, a surprisingly cooperative mouse tied to the end of her line, trying to catch – what? Well, Myla Goldberg explains, there is one night each month when there is no moon – a night when the Man in the Moon travels. And he shows up at the Fisherwoman’s door, offering her sea-cucumber sandwiches (“she certainly didn’t suppose she’d find them so delicious”). The Fisherwoman and the Man in the Moon are quite a pair of characters, shown so delightfully in Chris Sheban’s watercolors that it is hard to decide which one belongs more firmly in the land of fairy tales. (And don’t miss the mouse’s expressions, which are wonderful.) It turns out that the Fisherwoman and her mouse friend have been angling for the Man in the Moon all along, because the woman’s house – and those of all her neighbors – flood at high tide, which “won’t stop gobbling until our shacks and our piers are nothing but wormy old driftwood!” The Moon, of course, controls the tides. Does the Fisherwoman, whose neighbors think her night fishing with a mouse indicates that she has “become old and sea-addled,” realize that she has in fact befriended the Man in the Moon? Goldberg cleverly leaves the question unanswered as she gives her story a gentle tidal pull toward a wholly satisfactory and rather touching conclusion. Read this one at night – it’s a lovely little bedtime tale.
Things are considerably more bouncy in I Love My Pirate Papa, in which a little boy lives and loves the pirate life, described in doggerel by Laura Leuck: “I get to walk along the plank and leap into his lap./ I’ve learned the letter X because he lets me read his map.” Kyle M. Stone’s acrylic-and-mixed-media illustrations are a big part of the fun here, showing the boy swinging from a rope, riding (with a toy sword) atop a huge treasure chest, participating in a belching contest with the crew, and getting ready for bed and his bedtime story – about Captain Hook. These pirates generally look mighty scruffy, and they even fight (a bit) over their loot, but there’s clearly a soft side to all of them, not only when they burp together but also when the boy’s eyepatched dad flips the patch up to reveal a perfectly good eye underneath it – the better to read with (the Captain Hook book has a heart as well as a hook on the cover). It would have been easy for Leuck to turn the whole story into a boy’s fantasy, but no: it does not turn out that a child, happy in his warm home, has imagined all this; the book ends with the boy falling happily asleep in the pirate ship. This could make a good bedtime story for an active child – but it’s just as much fun to read at any time of the day.