Welcome to the week that many of us gather around a table for Thanksgiving and dine with family members. Much has been made of Thanksgiving 2016 and how hanging over the dinner table will be the specter of politics and potentially calamitous points of view about the President-elect and the future of this country. All I can say is: I wish everyone luck.
But I can also say that there’s a new picture book about gathering around a table that brought a smile to my face, and perhaps it will for you too: Hawksley Workman’s Almost a Full Moon, illustrated by Jensine Eckwall. A little bit realism and a little bit fantasy, it’s a book that came out of nowhere (for me anyway) and is a breath of fresh air.
Workman is a Canadian singer-songwriter (as well as a poet and playwright) and evidently the text for this was originally released as a song, but I didn’t know this until after finishing the book. There is certainly a particular song-like rhythm and flow to the text, which celebrates community and generosity.
It’s “almost a full moon,” the book opens. We see a young boy gathering twigs near a home in the country. Snow drifts cover the ground. He brings the twigs inside to an elderly lady, who is stirring soup. “Let’s make some soup ‘cause the weather is turning cold” is a repeating refrain. As the boy and woman continue cooking, friends start to gather, and the table is set. A girl with perpetually-flying red hair and a coat looking a lot like birds’ wings—and here’s where a bit of fantasy enters into the picture—arrives on a wolf, with woodland creatures gathered around her (what the Kirkus review calls “a veritable peaceable kingdom of forest animals”). Everyone sits at the giant wooden table: “We’ll make enough to feed everyone we know ….We’ll make enough to feed everyone we don’t.” Even the girl’s monumental wolf is there, inside, joining in the revelry.
The book’s best line? “No one’s different and everyone’s alone.” On this spread, everyone is gathered around, one party-goer playing a stringed instrument and the children dancing. There’s a tremendous amount of cheer and compassion springing forth from both the words and the illustrations, especially in this moment.
Eckwall, according to the book’s back-flap bio, graduated from the School of Visual Arts and now lives in Brooklyn. This is her debut picture book. Her palette is rustic with pale blues and earth tones. Everything about the interior of the woman’s home, where creatures (both human and otherwise) gather, adds up to a pleasing kind of coziness. Life is snug and warm and comfy inside the house, and this is made even clearer in the spreads where we are also given a glimpse of the snow outside. In one spread, where the red-headed girl and her menagerie arrive, we get a side view of the home and see the boy lean out of the front door. We’re able to see through the wall of the home, and the steam coming from the big bowl of hot soup floats through the air, even exiting the door to reach the girl outside. The moon (almost full, of course), naturally, shines a bright yellow on many spreads.
It’d be interesting to track down the song on which this text is based, but as a picture book text it works on its own. The rhythms are beguiling and carefree, never once veering into sing-song, and it begs to be a read-aloud, especially at this time of year when we gather with loved ones.
There are no political discussions at this table – just contentment and acceptance all around. So, if you’re not able to get that with your own family this week, pick up a copy of this one and share it with your favorite child. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
ALMOST A FULL MOON. Text copyright © 2016 by Hawksley Workman. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Jensine Eckwall. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tundra Books, Canada.