Cora was too young to sit through this fabulous fairy tale by James Thurber (1943) when it was gifted to her by her grandmother a few years ago. Joyce selected it because Thurber hailed from Columbus, OH where we live and she wanted Cora to have an appreciation for her hometown cultural heritage. The princess in the story also share’s Cora’s great-grandmother’s name, Lenore. Cora’s middle name, Lena, is a derivation.
Over time, Cora’s grown into the book and learned to love the story of Princess Lenore and her father’s quest to capture the moon for her. I love it because it honors child-logic, and the “fool” who is wise enough to listen to it. Readers will catch glimpses of the humor Thurber was best known for peppered throughout.
I’m not going to say anymore about the story here. You should read it for yourself. What I want to focus on in this post is the letter, written by Thurber’s daughter Rosemary, which appears at the front of our version of the story; the one on the right above, illustrated by Marc Simont in 1990. In the letter, Rosemary explains how skeptical she was when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers approached her with the idea of reinterpreting Many Moons. The original version, illustrated by Louise Slobodkin (1943), won a Caldecott Medal and seemed just about perfect. What was there to improve upon, she wondered.
Ultimately, she asked her children and grandchildren how they would feel about a new version of the story. She reported, “They are not so old and not yet so attached to things past as it turns out I am. They are wise. They all expressed their appreciation for the original version of Many Moons but the family consensus was that a new artist’s point of view could be exciting.”
We’ve seen different versions of fairy tales before. You can read about a few in this post to compare and contrast with your young readers. But this is different. So many of our most familiar fairy tales are attributed to Hans Christian Anderson and now in the public domain. That means their copyright protections have expired and anyone, including the Disney Corporation, can reproduce and profit from them. In 1970, Rosemary Thurber renewed the copyright on Many Moons, thereby retaining control of her father’s intellectual property and serving as a gatekeeper to those wishing to appropriate it.
Last week, I had a moment to read Rosemary’s letter for the first time. I summarized it for Cora, then proceeded to reserve a copy of the original from the library. Given her recent self-initiated comparing and contrasting of books in a series, it was no surprise that she was excited to see the books side-by-side.
Today, when so many young people are posting and reposting content across social media, photo-chopping found images, and mashing music from disparate genres it’s important that they learn about copyright and intellectual property. Many Moons offers a great example for readers of all ages.