I was at the San Francisco Main Library yesterday, wandering through the stacks of picture books. I could live there and never read them all, I’m sure. I love how the librarians pull out books for display and always find something special. Such is the case with The Little Moon Raven by Marcus Pfister.
From the opening image on the cover, the reader feels a sense of longing. This tiny raven, alone on a barren branch, gazing at the cool, silvery moon.
Then the story begins:
With three old ravens who are completely and utterly bored. Two complain that nothing ever happens, and are corrected by a third who says:
“Not true, not true…Have you forgotten the little raven with the silver wings?”
And the old raven begins to tell the story.
All of the flock’s eggs had hatched, except for one. But finally, it cracks and a tiny raven emerges.
How would you feel with all those beady eyes looking down at you?
Three of the ravens have their say,
“It’s so puny!” “Ten of that one could fit into one egg.” and “…that will grow into a raven?”
Notice the use of the word “that,” how it humiliates the little bird and gives it a sense of being an outsider, not even a living creature.
Are we fully on the side of this poor, tiny bird , yet? Of course we are! So then we watch as they tease and bully the little bird, telling him that he can’t play with them because he doesn’t have enough feathers, that he can’t even fly.
But he practices until he’s faster and more agile than any of them. Again he asks if he can play with them.
This time, the narrator tell hims he must fly to the moon before they will play with him. They pretend that they’ve already done it and that it’s easy.
So then we see little raven, nervous and gazing at the moon, anxiously wanting to have these birds as friends.
The narrator, the old raven, admits that they were wrong to do this. That he should have stopped the little raven, but he said nothing.
The raven narrator falls asleep while watching the little raven fly upward. And in his dream he sees the little one approach the moon with what look like silver wings that start to weigh him down. The little one falls.
The next day, the other ravens find the still, apparently lifeless bird.
Tell me. Are you worried about that little raven?
The little raven awakens and says,
“I didn’t make it.”
No one except the narrator knows exactly what that means.
The narrator stammers out an apology and asks for forgiveness.
And in the true spirit of children, the little raven doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead, he rises into the air and says,
“Come on, let’s play!”
It is only then that the narrator notices that the little raven now has one silver feather, like a badge of courage on his wing. The entire flock follows the little raven into the sky.
Critics of this book might say that the bullies don’t get their comeuppance. That one apology makes everything OK. But I’m thinking that a true apology, one that is heartfelt, makes a difference. It doesn’t change the past, but it has the potential to change the future, which is what we all want. And the little raven gives us a lesson in forgiveness, as well.
A lesson that’s so very much needed in these troubling times. The ability to apologize and to forgive are two very important skills we all need to have.
The writing is not heavy-handed. If anything, it’s understated. And the fabulous illustrations speak for themselves.
Themes: Bullying, friendship, fitting in
Title: The Little Moon Raven
Author/Illustrator: Marcus Pfister
Translator: Kathryn Bishop
Publisher: minedition, 2014
Originally published in German: Der kleine Mondrabe, 2010