Long Night Moon

10May10

by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Mark Siegal

“Have you ever stopped to consider what might be revealed in one spot over one year by twelve unique and exquisite full moons?” (inside cover dust jacket)

Long Night Moon is short poem by Cynthia Rylant about the different names of some Native American groups used to describe the different full moons for each month of the year. For example, February’s full moon was called the Snow moon, and September’s the Harvest moon. Here is an example of Rylant describing one of these moons in her typically flowing, comma-filled prose:”In February, a Snow moon glows white,  sharp, in a cool, crackling breath. It will miss its sister, the Sun. ” Throughout Rylant’s descriptions of the different moons, she uses personification (“in a cool cracking breath”)  to bring nature’s wonder to life.

The medium of the illustrations by Siegel are done in charming and deep hues of charcoal and pastels on full page spreads with overlaid text. Siegel really captures the night in an interesting new light and designs to the illustrations to accompany  to details in Rylant’s descriptions.

While both aesthetically pleasing in sound and sight, I think one of the most interesting things to analyze about this particular piece is the overall cultural authenticity. Rylant begins the poem with, “Long ago Native Americans gave names to the full moons…” Starting the poem in this way leads the reader to assume that there a connection between this piece and an aspect of Native American culture. As pointed out in a review from Beverly Slapin of Oyate on Long Night Moon, the illustrations that accompany this text by Siegal cause a kind of deviation to any connection to Native American culture except for trite references to drums and wolves.

Siegal also that it is particularly disjointed how Siegal’s interpretations of Rylant’s mention of “bears sleeping” would be presented as two white polar bears sleeping in a tree in the month of March right next to a fenced yard. In fact, polar bears only inhabit the arctic circle region – places man rarely inhabits. Siegal also notes that Rylant inaccurately applies these lunar months to the Roman calendar, causing her to lose an entire month. Interestingly, the aforementioned organization Oyate (an Indian rights group) categorized Long Night Moon as a “book to avoid” based on this cultural inaccuracies. The fact that Slapin, a cultural insider, felt that Rylant, a cultural outsider, may have taken too much artistic liberty in describing the different moons causes me to feel uncomfortable about the poem. On the other hand, I feel conflicted because I know Rylant’s intentions are good and I think the story shares an interesting concept and is an overall enjoyable piece. I found another book tells the same story as Long Night Moon with accompanying paintings that seems to be more cultural authentic – the book is called Thirteen Scales on the Turtle’s Back, each scale referring to one of the thirteen lunar moons.

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