Sam, Bangs and Moonshine


Written and Illustrated by Evaline Ness

Henry Holt and Company, 1966

Awards: Caldecott Medal

On a small island, near a large harbor, there once lived a fisherman’s little daughter (named Samantha, but always called Sam), who had the reckless habit of lying.

The plot in a nutshell: A little girl learns the consequences of lying

Sam lives with her father and her cat, Bangs. Her friend, Thomas, believes everything she tells him and is most interested in the baby kangaroo that she claims to have. He comes over often to see it, but she always tells him he’s stepped out and sends Thomas on a wild goose chase to find it. Sam’s father refers to her lying as ‘moonshine’ and tells her that it can lead to trouble. One day, Sam tells Thomas that the baby kangaroo has gone to visit her mermaid mother behind Blue Rock, which is near the seashore. Bangs tells Sam that high tide is expected at Blue Rock and runs off after Thomas. Sam starts to pretend, but then starts to worry. Her father runs inside, telling her that Bangs and Thomas are stranded on the rock and goes to rescue them.

Sam waits nervously until her father comes home. He tells her that he brought Thomas home, but Bangs was washed away. She cries hard and tells her father the whole story. He reminds her of the difference between real and moonshine and tells her to think about it. During the night, Bangs comes home, soaking wet. The next day, she wakes up to see a small animal with a long tail hopping into her room. She thinks it’s a baby kangaroo, but her father tells her it’s a gerbil. She’s very excited to show it to Thomas, but her father tells her that Thomas is very sick. Sam decides to give the gerbil to Thomas and she tells him its name is Moonshine.

Sam and Bangs are both contemplating big things.

Sam and Bangs are both contemplating big things.

Author/illustrator Evaline Ness is delving into some serious topics in this book and most of them are hiding in the subtext. Sam tells Thomas that her mother is a mermaid, but actually, her mother has died. With that one piece of information, it’s easy to surmise that Sam is doing so much pretending to avoid having to deal with the loss of her mother. When her pretending puts her friends in danger, she realizes that pretending doesn’t always make a situation better and she makes a good decision, showing that she has gained a little maturity out of the situation. It’s a good conclusion.

The artwork, in shades of black and brown, sets the story in its somewhat gloomy seaside town. I really love her artistic style and the moments she chooses to draw in the story. The image of Sam sitting pensively on the porch as Thomas rides his bike toward Blue Rock and danger in the background is particularly stirring to me. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that lying always carries the risk of hurting you and sometimes carries the risk of hurting others.


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