Written and Illustrated by Marcia Brown
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1982
Awards: Caldecott Medal
The eye has no shadow. All the children of the Moon and of the Sun, the Earth, the Water, the Air, the Fire, own no shadow.
The plot in a nutshell: A poem about the essence of a shadow
Shadow lives in the forest and comes out to watch dancers around the fire. It stands behind the storyteller, but never speaks. It always watches and is always there, even while you sleep, although it is blind. It stumbles and runs, but never cries out because it has no voice. Some say it is the mother of all creepy and crawly things, which is why you should keep an eye on your shadow and not step on it. But, although it is scary, it cannot really hurt you. It can make a fool of you or appear to be something else. It waves with grass in the wind and runs with animals and follows man everywhere, including war. It is everywhere and no one can move it. It is heavy at night and no one can fight it. Every breath makes it move in a dance.
Author/illustrator Marcia Brown translated the text for this book from a poem called ‘La Feticheuse’ by French poet Blaise Cendrars. The representation of the shadow spirit in the original poem came from African folklore and Ms. Brown reflects the story’s origin in the artwork, which is done in collage form in bold and dark colors. The poem flows well, touching on all the different elements of shadows during different times of the day and how they can change. The artwork is original and colorful, with really lovely images of people and animals in an African landscape. But I have to say that I just didn’t enjoy this book.
I appreciate the artistry of the poem, but the subject matter didn’t grab me and the artwork, while lovely in places, added a level of creepiness that was unsettling, especially in the picture of the blind shadow with ashes for eyes. I can see this book being used as part of an educational curriculum for teaching kids about African culture or even the use of personification in storytelling, but I can’t imagine children getting a lot of enjoyment out of reading this on their own.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that your shadow is a mystical and intangible thing.