Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful unicorn who was made even more beautiful by the light of the moon. The unicorn loved nothing better than to sit in her forest glade and admire her reflection in the lake. Then, one night, the moon failed to appear in the sky … and so the unicorn set out to rescue the moon ….
Tomie dePaola is one of my favorite illustrators. I loved his books as a child — especially The Prince of the Dolomites — so I make a point of looking for his out-of-print and hard-to-find titles at used bookstores. The Unicorn and the Moon is one such book; even better, it was a completely new title to me.
I snatched it up and took it home. As usual, the art is simple and colorful. The unicorn is a cool slash of light in a dark landscape. The griffin is fierce and terrible, and the alchemist is heavy-browed and mysterious.
The story itself, though, is a bit lacking. The unicorn is described throughout the story as “vain.” The only reason she goes in search of the moon is because she wants to admire herself in its light. She expresses no concern for the moon itself. Even after the moon is freed, the unicorn offers no consolation; instead, she chastises the moon and tells it to be more careful in the future — and then she wanders off to admire herself again.
The story ultimately left me frustrated. I wanted to know more about the griffin and the alchemist. I wanted to know what the moon thought about this whole adventure. I wanted to know what became of the unicorn. Did she learn nothing about compassion and friendship? After all that happened, how could she remain the same vain, self-centered creature?
In the end, I recommend The Unicorn and the Moon for the illustrations — but I think parents and educators should use the story as a teaching opportunity. Invite children to critique the characters and come up with lessons of their own. Let them continue the story, and spin further adventures for the unicorn, the griffin, the alchemist, and the moon.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan, the editor of EHS.]