M is for Moon and Moonbeam

The moon has been long recognised for its ethereal beauty and for its associations with the Mystical Feminine.

Moon gazing is a leisurely pursuit of the ancient Chinese and Japanese since before the millennium. A full moon is especially enthralling and festivities are arranged and organised around the night when the moon is at her fullest and brightest. Living in Singapore means that I get to be part of an important festivity known as the Mooncake Festival which takes place annually around late September/early October in the Gregorian calendar. This roughly translates to the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar which is a lunar calendar. This year, the Chinese diaspora celebrated the Mooncake Festival on the 24th of September. As this time is also the middle of Autumn, it is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival more so than the Mooncake Festival. Mooncakes are the main delicacy made and served during this time. Mooncakes are a type of Chinese pastry which is made from flour, sugar, lotus seed paste and nuts. Some are stuffed with whole egg yolks that have been preserved in salt — salted eggs — an ancient egg preservation technique. The saltiness of the yolks balances out the sugary lotus bean paste. This ying-yang of balancing tastes underpins how the Chinese have been eating for centuries. All this yummy wholesome goodness is encased in a thin skin of pastry and shaped by a wooden mould that has been inscribed with Chinese symbols and writing before being baked to a golden goodness.

The 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar is when the moon is at her biggest, roundest and brightest. To the Chinese, this is a symbol of reunion. The full moon is also a symbol of wholeness, representing unbrokenness and togetherness. The moon waxes and wanes but always returns to its full shape which further symbolises her enigmatic potential and puissance. During the mid-Autumn festival, families and friends gather round to do some moon gazing and share mooncakes, which are sliced into equal pieces so that everyone gets a morsel, over tea. Children are especially at their most gleeful because they get to ferry lanterns around the neighbourhood, joined by their friends and neighbours. It’s a fun-filled joyous occasion.

On the 6th of October, I received an email from a man named Jim Barnes.

“Congratulations on being a Moonbeam medalist!”

I’m over the moon to be placed third in this prestigious children’s book award competition. Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was awarded the bronze medal at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for 2018 in the pre-teen general fiction category. Of course, the only phrase I could think of when trying to share my joy was “over the moon”. And here is why this phrase got stuck to help us express joy:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

 

The Moonbeam Awards celebrate “books [that] encourage children to be generous and compassionate, to stand up to bullies, and to believe in fulfilling their dreams.”

A flurry of excited emails followed Barnes’ initial announcement. Open is invited to take part in the Traverse City Children’s Book Festival which will take place the weekend of November 10. I am gutted to say that I will not be attending the award ceremony and book festival as I will be conducting a workshop, November 11 at the Singapore Writers Festival.  But for those reading in the U.S.A. and living near Michigan, do drop by Traverse City for this book festival. Take some photos with Open and share them on social media, tagging me with #OpenEveryChildMatters. I’ll be beaming from ear to ear to see you sharing in Open’s travelogue.

I will admit that it wasn’t so much the award that made me feel over the moon. [Okay, yesss it was, but…] It was more so that Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, a book set in Singapore and very locally flavoured, was selected out of “nearly 1,200 entries from all over the world, including 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and 10 countries overseas: Australia, Ireland, Finland, United Kingdom, Spain, Norway, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the Netherlands” to win a medal together with 157 other book writers and authors. This highlighted to me that writing what you know, writing local and writing from the heart conjure up much magic and direct moonbeams to generate light and energy.

You’re looking at a woodblock print of ‘Moon’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861). Kuniyoshi is considered one of the greatest Japanese print artists. His contemporaries were Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1796 – 1858), famous woodblock printers known for a genre of prints called ukiyo-e (art of the floating world).

Kuniyoshi is remembered more for his versatile and humorous artworks depicting scenes and natives of Edo (now Tokyo). He lampooned politicians and the rulers of ancient Japan and managed to get away with it through cleverly veiling his criticisms allegorically. He combined western methods of depicting landscapes and experimented beyond the boundaries of traditional Japanese print art. Kuniyoshi is recognised more for his prints of samurai warriors, courtesans/beautiful women and less for his landscapes. But his landscape prints are as beautiful and symbolic as his other ones.

Prints are one of my favourite forms of art. The processes of printing are complicated and intricate, much like the processes of writing. The Japanese have been making prints for centuries and I especially like Kuniyoshi’s for their artisanal workmanship and details. Like they say, “the devil’s in the details”.

Love if you’d help like and share this post. Thanks always for reading. If you’re eager to get your copy of Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, please do so through this link. Read out for the details in Open and tell me what you find.

Kuniyoshi, U (1797 – 1861), ‘Moon’ (undated), WikiArt Public Domain.