As some of you might be aware, I recently started a new job. My first real job since Bunnybean was about a year old…and she’s 13 now. So, its been a while. The great thing about this job, is that I’m not in an office — I’m out driving around and visiting elementary schools, and talking about books. I know! Books!
In my first week, my new boss gave me 9 brand new books to read. It was amazing. And then they showed me the warehouse, as big as a city block, and filled with books. My brain went into overdrive thinking about my brand new employee discount!
The first book I picked off of the pile was a cute paperback called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which won the Newbery Medal this year, along with a huge list of other awards. And it was well deserved.
This is the story of a world filled with bogs and volcanos. All things in this world were born from the bog, including Glerk, the poetic bog monster, who is older than even he can remember. He lives on the edge of the forest with Xan, an old witch, and Fyrian, an impossibly small dragon.
Every year, Xan travels across the forest to a strange town where babies are left in the forest to die, for no reason that Xan can figure out. Xan picks up these precious babies and brings them to the cities on the other side of the forest to be loved by new families. On the way, she feeds them with the magic of starlight. Thus, the babies are known far and wide as the “star children.”
But one year, when Xan makes the journey to pick up the newly abandoned baby, she accidentally feeds it moonlight, which “enmagicks” the baby, and causes Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian to fall madly in love with her. Unable to give her away to a new family, they adopt her as their own and name her Luna.
Meanwhile, we find out exactly why these babies are being left in the forest. The citizens of the town have been told by their local leaders that every year, the witch of the forest DEMANDS a sacrifice, and that she eats the babies. The citizens live in fear of the witch, and never question this rule, as long as it means they can live in peace.
Until Luna’s mother. Luna’s mother loves her baby so much, that giving her up simply breaks her. And a young man named Antain, who is training to join the elder leaders of the town, begins to question just why this practice is allowed, and why these babies are given up so easily.
As Luna grows up and becomes more and more magical, Xan and Glerk worry about how to manage her powers. As Luna grows stronger, the magic inside Xan seems to be withering. And the more Antain questions what is going on in his town, the more uncomfortable the leaders of the town get.
Let me just say that although this is a book targeted toward 8-12 year olds, I literally couldn’t put it down. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking story about what makes a family. It made me laugh and it made me angry and it made me sad.
And there was certainly some gorgeous and mature writing here (let me clarify — nothing mature like “adult” or untoward, but mature, as in, not pandering to children. this author treats her audience as intelligent readers across the board.) For instance, when Glerk realizes that his beloved Xan is growing weaker as Luna grows stronger, he sorrowfully thinks:
Death is always sudden…Even when it isn’t.
And when Luna begins to realize that maybe there is more to her family’s story than her beloved Xan has told her, she wonders:
I had a mother once, Luna though. I must have. She frowned. And surely, she must have asked about it, too, but she seem to remember doing so.
Luna made a list of what she knew in her head.
Sorrow is dangerous.
Memories are slippery.
My grandmother does not always tell the truth.
And neither do I.
Not exactly the sentiments you expect in a book for elementary students, right?
The story doesn’t have a “and they lived happily ever after” for all of the characters, but it does have the right ending. Highly recommended. I’m glad it was the book I chose to write about for my seventh (SEVENTH!!!) cannonball.