Picture book review: The Man in the Moon by William Joyce

Cover of "The Man in the Moon" by William Joyce.
Cover of “The Man in the Moon” by William Joyce.
The Man in the Moon by William Joyce is a good book. Not a great one, but good. The illustrations are wonderful, as one expects from William Joyce, but unfortunately, the story is weak.

The Man in the Moon is a picture book representation of a story told within Joyce’s middle-grade novel, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King. It is about the origin of the Man in the Moon, his family’s battle with Pitch, the King of Nightmares, and creation of the Guardians of Childhood. Like Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, this story is a necklace made of tall tales beaded together. It sparkles and shines with fancifulness. There are big ideas here with outlandish origins to things like the brightness of the moon. We also gain a peek at a future Guardian of Childhood, Mother Goose. Her book is not yet written.

The illustrations are simply astounding. These alone make the book worth owning. One of my favorites is the splash page with no words of baby MiM noticing the flash from the destruction of his childhood friend, Nightlight, his parents, and the dastardly Pitch. The MoonMice are adorable, as is the bewildered expression of the baby MiM. All the illustrations are whimsical, colorful, and full of imagination. Moonmice, Moonbots, Lunar Moths, and giant Glowworms populate the pages with strangely beautiful lunar landscapes and stellar backdrops. Meanwhile, planet Earth hangs in the sky much as the moon does for us. The illustrations truly are delightful.

If you are a fan of William Joyce, this book may be as wonderful as the blurbs on the back cover claim. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as awed. I found myself wishing that the story matched the breathtaking wonderfulness of the illustrations. As a necklace of tall tales, this finished piece lacked focus for me as if it were put together with uninspiring pieces. The illustrations were so rich in imagery, color, and ideas.

Comparatively, I found the tale flat as the emphasis was on the big ideas and what happened. There was no personality to the characters, which is surprising considering the emotional screenplays Joyce writes for movies based on his books. Consider the main characters in The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are, or Mo Willems’ Little Pigeon stories and how engaging they are.

Illustrations alone can’t make a great book, but they can make a good book. The slightness of the story isn’t a glaring detraction from the picture book or illustrations, however. There is still a lot to enjoy between the front and back covers of The Man in the Moon, and fans of the Guardians of Childhood series will love the addition to the canon.

Release Date: September 6, 2011 (USA)
ISBNs: 1442430419 (9781442430419)
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 100%


Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 0
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 1 (death of parents)

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