Home Arts-Entertainment Showcase ST. THOMAS DUO'S LATEST BOOK IS 'MOON ROOSTER'.



July 9, 2001 – St. Thomas children's authors Phillis and David Gershator have made their mark in mainstream commercial publishing with a succession of picture books featuring themes and settings that look and sound a lot like home.
Phillis, a former children's librarian on St. Thomas and earlier in New York, broke into the major publishing market as a picture book author in 1994 with "Rata-Pata-Scata-Fata," "Tukama Tootles the Flute" and "The Iroko Man: A Yoruba Folktale." In 1995, she and her husband, David, a poet, visual artist and professor, collaborated on "Bread Is for Eating," which became a Reading Rainbow feature selection.
The next year brought "Sweet, Sweet Fig Banana" for Phillis.
The couple's next collaboration was "Palampam Day," published in 1997, the year Phillis also came out with "Zzzng! Zzzng! Zzzng!: A Yoruban Tale" (a variation on the ever-popular "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears"). And 1998 brought Phillis's first major-market venture into beyond-the-Caribbean themes, "When It Starts to Snow," as well as another team effort, "Greetings, Sun."
In 1999, Phillis came out with "Tiny and Bigman" and "Sambalena Show-Off." Last year brought another solo effort, "Only One Cowry."
All this is by way of introduction to the couple's new title, "Moon Rooster," which carries a September release date by New York publisher Marshall Cavendish, although review copies are already in circulation.
While "When It Starts to Snow" is clearly not set in the Caribbean, "Moon Rooster" is a mebbe so, mebbe no situation. As roosters, hens, the sun and the moon are the primary characters, with a backdrop of stylized grass and sky and humans playing a peripheral role, the story could be set anywhere on Earth.
It begins on a moonless night with "the youngest rooster on the hill" unable to sleep because it's so dark. All the other roosters crow to make the sun rise each day, he reasons, but no one crows to make the moon come up. So he takes on the task, undaunted by failure the first night. Sure enough, next night a tiny sliver of moon emerges. And night after night he has greater and greater success, crowing his way up to a perfect, round full moon and impressing the hens no end — meanwhile irking all the humans within hearing distance.
But of this our hero has not a clue. Secure in the knowledge that he is performing a crucial role, he takes the old shoes and such that the people hurl at him as gifts of gratitude. But when some humans give chase with chicken soup on their mind, he hides in a tree and stays there for days, afraid even to crow — but dismayed at seeing the moon grow smaller, smaller, then disappear. What happens next is one of those "teaching points" children's picture books are more or less required to make: the greater strength of cooperative effort, as the other roosters come to M.R.'s aid, even though they're tired from their day jobs.
As for the humans, the story concludes, "most use earplugs. Besides, they know that if they catch one noisy rooster, another noisy rooster will take his place."
"Moon Rooster" is a fun read — for adults who can appreciate the irony of the dumb doodledoo who thinks he's such a hero, and for youngsters who'll just enjoy it on literal terms.
Unfortunately, the book's illustration sometimes works against it. Artist Megan Halsey has felt compelled to pepper her otherwise attractive pictures with hand-lettered words of their own, which compete with the narrative, and to add her own extraneous details to the story line, such as images of what the other roosters are dreaming about (driving a sports car, romancing a hen, playing hockey). And the graphic design gurus made a major gaffe in printing one whole page in dark green (for a hill by night) with the text overlaid in hard-to-see black ink.
Publishers and editors usually decide who will provide the artwork for what book, with authors having no say in the matter. For children's picture books, the arranged marriage has got to work if the book is to succeed. The Gershators have been uniformly lucky up to now, including with their two previous Cavendish publications, "Palampam Day" and "Tiny and Bigman."
"Moon Rooster" has two special local touches. It begins with a dedication to St. Croix poet Marty Campbell ("roosterman") and ends with a song — words and music — by David Gershator. By the looks of it, the music could have a calypso lilt, although there's no notation to that effect. St. Thomas fans of the Gershators' work obviously need to corral David with his guitar and demand a demonstration rendition. At a book signing somewhere would be nice.
"Moon Rooster" lists for $15.95.


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