Nov 30, 2011

Sweet Moon Baby and Author Interview

Sweet Moon Baby: An adoption tale by Karen Henry Clark
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

     A perfect baby girl is born in China.  Her parents are poor and dream of a better life for their daughter. "She should have pretty things", "she should learn to read."  As they send her in a basket down the river to find her new life under the light of the moon, the girl peacefully sleeps.
     At the same time, but in the other side of the world, a couple hopes for a daughter of their own.  They have waited for a long time for her, planting a garden in case she loves vegetables or pies, building a house with room for her, hoping she would like pretty things and books.  The moon gives them the sign they were waiting for and they embark on a journey to find their little girl.
     Sweet Moon Baby is beautiful, touching, lyrical, and memorable.  The language is poetic and flows with ease: "from high in the warm sky, the moon's face glowed on the river, making a path as clear as the night's promise."  The parallels in the phrases used by the parents in China and the American parents, frames the story and connects the two worlds before the beautiful baby becomes the physical link.  As the girl journeys through the river, different animals watch over her (a turtle, a peacock, a monkey, a panda, and fish). Once the girl is asleep in her new home in America, we connect back to her beginnings in China when we see a peacock feather by her nightstand, a goldfish and her three stuffed animals: a panda, a monkey, and a turtle.
     November is National Adoption Month, so what better way to close it out than reading this beautiful adoption story.  I read it aloud today to my fifth graders and, though I had read it alone a couple of times, I couldn't help choking up.  They were also very moved by it.  Simply beautiful.
Here is a link to the book trailer: Sweet Moon Baby

     As a special treat, I'm thrilled to share with you my second interview ever with the author of Sweet Moon Baby, Karen Henry Clark.  

What inspired you to write SWEET MOON BABY?

Our daughter Maggie was eleven months old when we adopted her from a Chinese orphanage and little was known about her.  I thought about how rich with information my own early life was because my mother saved so many things of mine, and we had great pictures of my early days.  None of that was possible for Maggie, so I wrote a history for her.  Her first English word was moon, which seemed incredibly dear to me.  And she said it with such joy and certainty that it inspired me to believe the moon had been a significant influence in her life from the beginning.  

Did your daughter participate in the process for the book?

She is so much a part of this book and the fact that I finally got published that it's a huge thing to try explaining it.  I'll try.  By the time I was four years old, I wanted to be an author.  While other children played outdoors, I wrote books and drew the illustrations.  I had no idea, of course, how to go from that to getting a printed book on a shelf, but life has a curious way of showing us how to make our dreams come true.  By the time we adopted Maggie, I had given up writing picture books because I kept having "almost but not quite" experiences with editors.  Then one day when she was in kindergarten, we were in a bookstore, and I read her a piece of a review I'd written several years before she was born.  It was still printed on the novel's cover.  "That's good, Mama," she said.  "You should write more!"  Her face was beaming at me, filled with faith that I could do it.  So I started again by writing about her in SWEET MOON BABY.  She often sat on my lap while I typed, and I would read it out loud to her.  She was excellent at telling me what she liked and what she thought wasn't clear enough.  So not only was she the subject matter, she was my first editor. 

Are you working on other stories connected to the theme of adoption?

In a way, yes.  At Christmas last year, we adopted two rescue dogs.  One of them had never had a home and was found in the northern part of the state.  She traveled a great distance to get to us and had been through plenty of hard times alone.  She is the sweetest, bravest dog.  I've started a story based on her journey.

What books influenced you as a writer?
As a first grader, I tried to understand why some books were interesting to me and some weren't.  I worried about Dick, Jane, and Sally in our early readers because their lives seemed so awful because all they did was stand around and shout verbs at each other.  At least that's how it seemed to me.  I kept wondering what was wrong with them.  My mother took me to the library each week, and I'd fallen head over heels for Curious George and Dr. Seuss's Horton.  Now there were characters who were really living.  I started writing my own stories that involved the long-winded tales of a rabbit family.  They were always up to something.  So I wrote to avoid dry literature and to create joyful literature.

What are three books every adult should read to their kids?
I'm not much into lists of "bests."  What inspires one reader is easily disregarded by another.  It's like telling a joke. Some laugh wildly, and others stare blankly at you. For instance, my husband has always loved Where the Wild Things Are, but it does not speak to me.  I can admire the phrasing and art, but the story does not capture my heart.  You should read whatever you love, whatever you remember fondly.  Children are as impressed by an adult's devotion to a certain tale as they are by the plot itself.  My mother read to me the stories she believed were important life lessons, although I didn't see it at the time.  There was no room for princesses or magic spells in her lap.  She read The Little Engine that Could and Henny Penny and The Little Red Hen.  Consequently, she raised a determined daughter who never waited for a magic potion.   

Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Because I've written a picture book, I cannot leave the beautiful art of Patrice Barton unmentioned.  When the editor sent me her drawings, I showed them to a few people to watch their reaction.  Even without words, tears would run down the faces of those adoptive mothers who turned through her illustrations.  The heartfelt power of her drawings is undeniable.  The story tells itself by what she's drawn.  The book has been out for a while now, but I am constantly amazed by the lovely comments I receive.  At a school reading, an adopted kindergarten Chinese girl told my husband, "I'm the REAL sweet moon baby."  That she identified so intently with the baby's adventure is just the dearest thing to me.  But, really, who wouldn't love to believe a peacock had carried them past the moon?

Thanks Karen for your time and kindness!


  1. Loved the book - story and illustrations - and was so glad to hear more about it from the author. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Dear MotherReader,
    Glad you enjoyed it! It is a lovely book and knowing the back story made it even more special for me.