Imagine a magical Hawaiian night with a fat, round moon streaming its silvery light on ocean and shore, illuminating a mango tree drooping “with heavy, ripe fruit.”
A mother and daughter sit on the lanai of a tiny blue house that is “tucked under the tree’s broad branches,” engaging in a fanciful dialog of “what if” questions and answers. There’s no limit to little Ānuenue’s* curiosity and wild imaginings, no boundaries to her mother’s love.
What if I ate up all those mangoes one by one, and I got so full of them that I turned into a mango tree?
Then I would bring you fresh, cool water to drink every morning. I’d gently pull out any weeds that block the sun and keep the soil healthy for your roots to grow deep and strong. And I would spend my days resting in your shade so that I could tell you about the fantastic adventures of your great-great-grandparents.
Moon Mangoes, a warmhearted, stunningly illustrated picture book that Papertigers reviewer Aline Pereira calls, “an ode to children’s imagination and a meditation on parental love,” has all the makings of a modern classic alongside such perennial favorites as Mama, Do You Love Me? and The Runaway Bunny.
I love the pairing of Lindy Shapiro’s lyrical, poetic narrative with Kathleen Peterson’s highly evocative, color saturated spreads rendered in rich jewel tones. Here is a universal theme presented with a distinct Hawaiian flavor, illuminating the lush, natural beauty of the islands and the spirituality and animism characterizing the native peoples.
Little ones will be eager to see just what Ānu asks her mother next — what if she instead turned into a rascally dog (kolohe ‘īlio), a delicate butterfly (pulelehua), a mud-loving pig (pua’a), a mango-colored lizard (mo’o), a venerable green sea turtle (honu), or even the silvery moon itself?
Each time, Ānu’s mother expresses another dimension of her deep, abiding love with an equally imaginative answer: for a rascal there is play tempered with gentle guidance, for a butterfly, quiet observation and acquiescence, for a wise old turtle, an open-hearted willingness to listen and learn.
But, Mama, what if I ate up all the mangoes and my spirit grew so huge that I became the silvery moon that shines on our mango tree?
‘Aah . . . ‘ Mama spoke quietly as she gazed up at the beauty of the night sky. ‘Then I would know that you were always with me, in the trees, with the crashing waves, in each drop of rain. And every night I would sit right in this very spot and talk story with you. I would listen for your voice being carried to me on the wind like a big, warm hug.’
Each of Mama’s answers is amplified with its own wordless, double-page spread, drawing the reader into its enchanting embrace with its wind-swept strokes. Peterson’s textured pastel illustrations have a primitive, folkloric feel to them, further enriching the story’s timeless theme.
The idea for Moon Mangoes came from Maui-based author Lindy Shapiro’s own experiences trying to answer her two children’s confounding questions about the world. “Their imaginations amaze me and remind me that truly anything is possible if we dare to dream it.”
Children will readily identify with the simultaneous yearning for and fear of independence, the need to constantly test their parents and seek reassurance. Parents will nod in recognition at a child’s persistent questions, remembering that sometimes it’s good to step out of “adult mind” to free associate with a child’s spirit.
Though at its heart Moon Mangoes is a fun bedtime or laptime story that little ones will ask for again and again, I love that it works on other levels. I like to think about the wholeness, the complete circle of love represented by the moon, its mystery, and the reflective bond of light between mother and child.
The mango has long held great historical and cultural significance in South Asia, especially in India, where it is the national fruit and revered as a symbol of life, love and happiness. It is mentioned in many epic and theological writings, including the Veda and the Ramayana, one of India’s most legendary Sanskrit poems. I also can’t help thinking of Buddha himself, who liked to repose and meditate in mango groves with his fellow monks, and the iconic image of a master and disciple sitting beneath a fruit tree engaging in rigorous dialogs on the path to enlightenment.
So indeed, Moon Mangoes, for its sheer poetic and visual beauty, is just as Aline says — both an ode and a meditation that offers sustenance for both parent and child. The book received a 2011 Moonbeam Silver Medal, the 2012 Ka Palapala Po’Okela Award of Excellence in Children’s Literature, and was selected to represent Hawai’i at the 2012 National Festival of Books in Washington, D.C.
Ānu snuggled deeper into her mama’s arms, and yawned.
‘I love you . . .
no matter what if.’
Mama smiled as Ānu finally drifted off to sweetest dreams.
‘I love you too . . .
no matter what if.’
* * *
written by Lindy Shapiro
illustrated by Kathleen Peterson
published by BeachHouse Publishing, 2011
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 36 pp.
Cool themes: love, families, Hawai’i, bedtime stories, Hawaiian language, multicultural/diversity
**Another good share for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
*Ānuenue is Hawaiian for “rainbow” :)
*Interior spreads from Moon Mangoes posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2011 Lindy Shapiro, illustrations © 2011 Kathleen Peterson, published by BeachHouse Publishing. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.