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Nightgown of the Sullen Moon

By Susan Mallette

Act out how the moon orbits the earth, make “sullen” faces, make moon gowns, look at patterns, make a moon paper doll with watercolor night gowns and bake moon cakes in this night-time tale that celebrates the billionth birthday of the moon.

Title Nightgown of the Sullen Moon by Nancy Willard
Ages 2 years through 8 years
Summary It’s the moon’s billionth birthday and what she really wants is a nightgown with stars all over it. Find out how she gets one and what the people on earth think when she wears it in this enchanting tale that offers a magical explanation for why we don’t see the moon every night.
Themes The orbit of the moon, sullen feelings, patterns, water color painting, ways to cope with unhappiness.

Science – Act out how the moon orbits the earth

You will need
A globe
A small ball

How to do it
One person holds a small ball, which represents the moon. Holding the ball, she walks slowly around the globe mimicking the moon’s orbit around earth. It takes the real moon 28 days to move around the earth.

“And, high and away in her new nightgown, the moon heard people crying for the moon that had left them.” Have the children yell, “Moon, come back!” as the person with the moon ball walks away from America.

In The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon, “moon” is written in 10 languages on the page where the world cries out for the moon. See if your child can yell out “Luna!” (Spanish) when the moon walks from Mexico, “Maan!” (Dutch) when she walks from Norway or “Mond!” (German) when she walks from Germany. And did you know that Luna is the name the Romans gave the moon? The Greeks called her Selene and Artemis.

Language Arts – “Sullen” faces

Explain to your child that “sullen” means gloomy. People who are sullen are quietly upset. Look at the picture of the moon’s face on the page where she watches “the nightgown kick and shine.” Compare that to the moon’s face on the page where she “joyfully sailed outside.”

Writers use descriptive words to show feeling. Help your child think of some feeling words for the letters in the word sullen. “S” could be sad, silent, sulk; “U” could be upset, understanding; “L” could be lovely, likable, and so on. For more fun, see if your child can guess the feeling on your face, or see if you can guess the feeling he puts on his face.

Math – Patterns
The moon goes to the slumber shop to buy a nightgown. She passes on a nightgown with animal prints, one with big flowers, a plain one and a black one, until she finds the perfect blue flannel nightgown stitched with stars.

Look at the patterns of the nightgowns on the page and talk about how repetition makes a pattern. Have your young child count the cats in the animal gown and flowers in the floral gown.

Art -- Painting Moon Nightgowns
David McPhail, who illustrated The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon, uses water colors. Watercolors make muted or soft shades of color. They are almost transparent in places. Take a moment to look through the paintings in the book and talk about how McPhail used watercolors to create beautiful illustrations.

Experiment with watercolors yourself. For best results, use watercolor paper; it is thicker than regular white drawing paper and holds the water better. You can find it in discount stores in the arts and craft section.

Try making a simple moon-faced paper doll. Then use your watercolors to paint nightgowns for your moon doll. The nightgown illustrations in the book could be traced with tracing paper and glued on cardboard to make nightgown patterns for small children who may need to trace on watercolor paper before painting their nightgowns.

For a fun variation of this idea, try painting a picture all over with watercolors and then cut out the nightgown pattern from what you think is the best portion of your watercolor picture.

Cooking -- Moon Cakes
Moon Cakes are often eaten on Chinese New Year’s because the Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar.

1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup salted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup strawberry (or your favorite) jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the butter, sugar and 1 egg yolk and stir. Mix in the flour. Form the dough into one large ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes. Unwrap the chilled dough and form small balls in the palms of your hand. Make a
hole with your thumb in the center of each mooncake and fill with about one-half a teaspoon of jam. Brush each cake with the other beaten egg yolk and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or just until the outside edges are slightly brown.

Discussion Starters
Talk with your child about how this story is one made up explanation for why we don’t see the moon every night. Scientists know that the moon is sometimes hidden from the Earth’s view because the moon moves around the earth while the Earth moves around the sun. People often make up stories to explain the things they don’t understand. Perhaps your older child would enjoy making up a story about why it is hot in the summer or why the thunder comes before the
rain or why water is wet.

Natural parenting tip – Ways to cope with unhappiness
The moon gets lots of attention from Earth: “Men have worshipped me, poets have praised me,” she says. Yet the moon is very unhappy because even she has never gotten the thing she most wants: a blue nightgown with stars on it. The moon decides since it’s her billionth birthday, she will get herself a gift, the nightgown she has always wanted.

Talk with your child about how to turn sullen or gloomy feelings into happy feelings without hurting the people around him. The moon loves her gift to herself, but the people and animals on earth who depend on her silver light are sad. They can’t see her in the sky, because her blue nightgown with stars on it blends in and she is invisible.

You might talk about how sometimes a walk, a favorite snack, a good book, a hug, a craft or a joke can make someone feel better. Ask your child to remember a time he felt sullen and tell what made him feel better.

Talk about how you get sullen, too. Sometimes when I’m sullen, I just keep quiet; I don’t want my words to hurt my family. I also put on my Dr. Seuss hat, which makes me feel fun. Other times, I go for a walk or have our home school outside on the picnic table or have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast.

© Susan Mallette

NFO contributor Susan Regan Mallette, a former English teacher, spends her time homeschooling, writing curriculum and homemaking. Read more about Susan.




"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it." -- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist

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