Sam, Bangs and Moonshine by Evaline Ness

I deliberately searched for this book in our libraries when I learned that it is one of the earliest winners of the Caldecott Medal and it features a girl protagonist which is perfect for our bimonthly theme Girl Power and Women’s Wiles. 

What is Real? What is Moonshine? To say that I was intrigued by the title of this book is an understatement. Sam stands for imaginative Samantha, a fisherman’s daughter; Bangs is the name of her old black cat; Moonshine is what Sam does best. For us to have a clearer picture of what moonshine is, here is an excerpt from the book:

Early one morning, before Sam’s father left in his fishing boat to be gone all day, he hugged Sam hard and said, “Today, for a change, talk REAL not MOONSHINE. MOONSHINE spells trouble.”

Sam promised. But while she washed the dishes, made the beds, and swept the floor, she wondered what he meant. When she asked Bangs to explain REAL and MOONSHINE, Bangs jumped on her shoulder and purred, “MOONSHINE is flummadiddle, REAL is the opposite.”

I was immediately taken by this little girl who describes her mother to be a mermaid (when in truth, her mother had already passed away) and claims that she has a fierce lion and a kangaroo as pets at home. Her young friend, Thomas, hangs on to every bit of ‘real’ and ‘moonshine’ that Sam shares with him in his frequent visits – believing every word to be gospel truth.

Cute little Thomas. Evaline Ness is not only a talented storyteller, she is also a highly-skilled artist.

Sam, in all her unarticulated loneliness (with only a black cat and an impressionable little boy as her constant companions), only started realizing what the consequences of too much moonshine would be when her seemingly-innocuous made-up-stories put Thomas and Bangs in harm’s way. What happened to Thomas and the wise old cat, I shall leave for you to discover.

Crisp Pages and Cautionary Tales. This is a classic story with crisp, yellowed pages that I felt would easily crumble in my hands. I love books like this which survive the test of time. Similar to most earlier award-winning children’s books that I have read, there is a sense of didactic and overtly-cautionary theme to the narrative.

What worked for me though is that the father was portrayed as understanding and kind, gently correcting his daughter’s errors without breaking her spirit. I would have been heartbroken if that was the case. As Sam experienced a much-deserved reality check, her dreamy, fanciful, and spirited character – which makes her distinct and beautiful – remained.

Teacher Resources. I was able to find a few resources that would help teachers who may wish to use this in their classrooms. This post written by Kathy Laboard Brown looks into how cause-and-effect may be expertly woven onto understanding the story further. She also made mention of other Caldecott books and how it may be used in the classroom. A lesson plan on comprehension was created by Kristen Bickel for Primary 2 students. A list of possible questions and activities are recommended.

Sam, Bangs, & Moonshine written and illustrated by Evaline Ness. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1966. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Winner of the Caldecott Medal. AWB Reading Challenge Update: 50 (35)

Caldecott Challenge Update: 10 of 24

Picture Book Challenge Update: 57 of 120

6 Comments on Sam, Bangs and Moonshine by Evaline Ness

  1. I agree, the title is really intriguing. It looks like Sam’s imagination got a little bit out of control. 🙂

    The illustrations are lovely. It’s very old school. The last one you have here of Sam, clearly conveys that she has finally learned a lesson about “real” and “moonshine”


  2. Oh, this looks wonderful, Myra. I will need to look for it. I’m sure I’ve read it somewhere in the past, but guess it’s been lost to us all through the years. It seems like one to be resurrected.


  3. Moonshine! That word in the title is enough to get me on to this book. Wish we had libraries around here we could count on to have these books. I’d have to check book stores, goodluck with that 😦


    • Hi Vera! I think you’d have greater luck with the discounted book stores. This one, though, I have a feeling, might be out of print, owing to the fact that it’s really old. Do let me know though if you manage to find it.

      Liked by 1 person

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