1982 - Children’s Books, Picture Books (Paperback)

The Angry Moon

Author and Illustrator: William Sleator

Original Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
Current Publisher: Out of Print
Digital Publisher: Not Available

Reading Level: Not Available

Ned Vizzini writes:

A lonely kid goes away for the summer, meets new friends, starts playing a board game with them that centers on the capture of an “interstellar pig,” discovers that his friends are actually aliens and that the game is real... and realizes he’ll have to win to keep humanity alive.

Or...

Twin brothers discover a shed on their great-uncle’s farm that contains a miracle—a space-time disturbance that makes time move slower—but one brother locks himself inside on an obsessive quest to become bigger and stronger... tempting an extraterrestrial terror that could consume Planet Earth.

What are these? They’re one-sentence summaries of young adult novels by William Sleator, of course: 1984’s Interstellar Pig and 1985’s Singularity, respectively. They’re also the sort of big ideas that we storytellers salivate over.

A tale with emotional tidal pull, with characters you can care about just by hearing who they are, that can be told on an elevator ride? Those are the ideas that get rebooted! And the last guy who wrote them like Sleator was Philip K. Dick.

Dick is actually an eerie analogue to Sleator. Both men died young: Dick at 53, in 1982; Sleator at 66, in 2011. Both were prolific right up until their deaths. Both wrote what would be considered literary fiction if they had only gotten rid of those pesky speculative conceits.

But only Dick has had movies made of his work. For Sleator, whose golden period stretched from 1975’s Blackbriar to Singularity, the lack of a big-budget adaptation made him seem like a genre wannabe in a world of players, from Susan Cooper to Orson Scott Card, who made the leap. (This despite reaching tons of readers from Generation Y on and being declared a “Science-Fiction Master” by School Library Journal.) One of his obituaries called it “rather amazing” that Interstellar Pig was never filmed... but there’s still time—for it, Singularity, House of Stairs, Blackbriar, and all the rest.

Am I advocating that someone pick William Sleator’s bibliography clean? Yes! Philip K. Dick might welcome the company. They were not only similar in their biographies; they were the same type of writer: workmanlike when it came to prose and character but in love with the big, new idea that drew their heroes into spirals of claustrophobia, gallows humor, ill-advised love, surreality, and pure animal fear.

Which brings us to The Angry Moon, Sleator’s first book. It makes sense given his storytelling DNA that it would be a retelling of a Native American legend. Published in 1970, when Sleator was only three years out of college, and lushly illustrated by Blair Lent, it was named a National Book Award Finalist for Children’s Books, Picture Books (Paperback) in 1982.

Those familiar with Sleator’s young adult work will find tantalizing clues to his later brilliance. Two teenagers, Lupan and Lapowinsa, are out walking when Lapowinsa makes fun of the moon. She is quickly stolen away, and Lupan must save her. Some of the gorgeous visuals that follow show the breadth of Sleator’s idea-mining mind (and the skill of Lent’s art):

Lupan with a tree growing out of his head.

Lupan gets help from “the grandmother”

But what sticks with me most from The Angry Moon is Lupan’s reaction when he sees an arrow leading to the sun. “For a moment Lupan was stunned with fear and amazement,” Sleator writes, “but he did not hesitate for long.”

This is typical of Sleator’s characters. They are always amazed for long enough to seem real. But then they act, moving forward to some plot twist that’s like something you’ve heard before but a little bit different. Like an interstellar pig. Or a time-stopping shed. Or a house of stairs. Or an idea that Sleator didn’t come up with that’s still out there.

Ned Vizzini is the award-winning author of The Other Normals, It's Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... In television, he has written for ABC and MTV's Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles. Visit http://nedvizzini.com.

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Children’s Books, Picture Books (Paperback) Finalists That Year:

  • Muriel Feelings; Tom Feelings, ill. for Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book
  • Jane Langton for The Fledgling
  • Alice and Martin Provensen, ill. for A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abcedarius
  • William Sleator; Blair Lent, ill. for The Angry Moon
  • Rosemary Wells for Stanley and Rhoda

Children’s Books, Picture Books (Paperback) Winner That Year: Peter Spier for Noah's Ark

Judges That Year: Not Available

The Year in Literature: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard won the Newbery Medal.

More Information: Sleator split his time between his house in Boston, Massachusetts and a small rural village in Thailand. Many of his books and stories includ aspects of Thai culture. One of his last stories, “Lep,” is written from the perspective of a young gay Thai man.

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