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Shooting the moon with Eric Carle

October 25, 2012|By David L. Ulin | Los Angeles Times Book Critic
  • Cover of "Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me" by author Eric Carle.
Cover of "Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me" by author Eric Carle. (Simon & Schuster Books )

Not long ago, while sorting through old books, I found a copy of Eric Carle’s “Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me,” dedicated to his daughter Kirsten and first published in 1986. This was one of my favorite books to read to my son Noah when he was little, the story of a father, his daughter Monica and the moon.

Part of what attracted me to the book was what attracted me to pretty much every other Carle title I can remember — its quality of tactile interaction, of literally pulling its readers in. And yet "Papa" is different, because the story it tells, with its various fold-ins and fold-outs, is not about a hungry caterpillar or a grouchy ladybug, but rather about a father so in love with his child that he will do anything for her, even capture the moon.

"Papa got a very long ladder," Carle writes, in a two-page spread that opens into a four-page spread, pushing the ladder beyond the borders of the book. "He carried the very long ladder towards a very high mountain. … Then Papa put the very long ladder on top of the very high mountain. … Up and up and up he climbed."

Here, we see Carle’s signature simplicity, his language nearly verse-like in its elegance. And then, of course, there are the illustrations, blue and white with crazy cut-out stars, the night sky in a child’s eyes.

Still, the true genius of the story emerges only after Papa reaches the moon. "My daughter Monica would like to play with you," he says, "but you are much too big." To which the moon replies: "Every night I get a little smaller. … When I am just the right size you can take me with you."

That’s a beautiful moment, in which man and moon come to an accommodation, and everybody, miraculously, gets what they want. Reality, of course, doesn’t work like that, but this is why I love Carle's fable, because of the glimpse it offers of a gentler universe, where all our desires can be fulfilled.

The last time Noah and I read "Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me," he couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4. Today, he turns 18. It’s a more complicated age, but the book reminds me that one thing remains the same: I'll always try to get the moon for him, any time he asks.

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