Mexican artist David Álvarez draws on Mesoamerican folkloric traditions to spin an epic yet intimate new creation myth in his first English-language picture book, Ancient Night, accompanied by a narrative poem from Mexican American writer David Bowles (They Call Me Güero).
"At the start of things, the elders say,/ the universe was hushed and still./ The moon alone shone bright and round/ in the star-speckled dark of the sky," says the poem's opening, begging to be read aloud in quiet tones. Readers see Rabbit seated in profile on the glowing jug of the moon, sipping a luminous liquid against a dark, star-dotted sky. Rabbit keeps the moon alight by journeying down the trunk of the Mayan world tree to gather the radiant liquid aguamiel from the heart of "the first and holy maguey." Clever Opossum follows Rabbit to learn why the moon brightens and dims, and decides to taste the aguamiel. He cracks the moon with the tip of his cane and siphons the nectar into a jug. Rabbit discovers the theft and points out that Opossum has stolen all the light from the sky. Opossum regrets his choices immediately and sets out on a journey to make amends.
Álvarez, who usually works in black and white, uses color here but still portrays dramatic tones, as seen in Rabbit's dense fur, the stark beauty of the darkened sky and his knack for directing light and shadow. Bowles's free verse translates the story into a gently rocking rhythm. While some aspects of the myth may confuse young readers--and one illustrative detail doesn't quite match the accompanying poem--this picture book will nonetheless be a perfect bedtime read-aloud. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth experience manager, Dayton Metro Library