Ancient Night – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Other reviewers have called this book “luminous,” “enchanting,” and “ethereal.” I agree!

And I am compelled to describe the art before the text, as it is such a theatrical part of the story. Although the illustrations were created using acrylic and oil paints and later digitized, they look for all the world like they are three dimensional paper collage over a painted surface, creating an amazing sense of depth. And the way the foreground is illuminated along with the moon in the dark sky makes me feel like I’m in the story, not as a participant but as a close observer. It’s an eerie, mysterious, ecstatic feeling (in the 2ndary sense of the word – a mystical transcendence), which is part of the magic of this book.

Here’s how the story begins:

At the start of things, the elders say,
the universe was hushed and still.
The moon alone shone bright and round
in the star-specked dark of the sky.
Text ©David Bowles Illustration ©David Alvarez

I could spend all day admiring that paragraph, its rhythm, its assonance and consonance, its word choice and imagery, etc., but what it does most powerfully is prepare the reader for the mythology of the beginning of our world, the time before our existence.

Ancient Night weaves together multiple stories of two creatures and the celestial bodies associated with the pair from variations of Nahua tales, the rabbit/moon and the opossum/sun to create a new tale that feels ancient in its telling.

It’s a tale about how rabbit’s duty is to refill the moon’s glow, using aguamiel, a precious shining nectar. And how a clever opossum decides it wants the aguamiel for drinking. So the opossum drains the moon one night and is chided for its foolishness by the rabbit, because the moon’s glow has completely disappeared. High in the sky, the moon is dark and dead, like a broken light bulb. The opossum burrows deep underground in shame and heads to the center of the earth, bringing back fire both to light the sun in the sky and to provide light and warmth for the future human race. Rabbit and Opossum arrive at a truce, now as guardians of two different lights; the sun and moon cycle through their places in the day and night; and the pair drinks aguamiel together, sharing stories of their “many epic treks across the sea-ringed world.”

Notes from the author and illustrator explain how they pulled from different Mesoamerican sources in creating this new tale. It’s a beautiful story, one that can be shared during a read aloud at school or as a bedtime story at home. Truly magical.


Make an inflatable origami rabbit. Here’s a video if you need additional help.

Pair this book with Child of the Flower Song People by Gloria Amescua, illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Why do you think it might be important to remember your cultural history? How does history change, depending on who’s doing the telling? How do stories change if they’re not written down, but handed down in an oral tradition? What would you lose if the stories that are important to your family just disappeared?

Go to your library and explore how many other folktales you can find about the sun and the moon from different cultures. How are they similar or different?

Title: Ancient Night

Author: David Bowles

Illustrator: David Alvarez

Publisher: Levine Querido, 2023

Themes: mythology/folktales, origin of sun and moon, Nahua/Aztec culture

Ages: Preschool through elementary school

For more perfect picture book recommendation, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

6 thoughts on “Ancient Night – Perfect Picture Book Friday

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Mona, Yes! It feels like you’re holding the folklore magic in your hands. The more I sat with these two creatures, the more real they became to me. I could see making this story into a children’s puppet show.

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