This exquisite etiological story, originally published in a wordless format by David Álvarez in Mexico in 2017, blends multiple Mesoamerican tales to tell a story of how the sun came to be.
“At the start of things, the elders say,” begins award-winning author David Bowles’ text, which was composed for this edition, “the universe was hushed and still.” Teal-gray Rabbit perches atop the moon, which takes the form of a round jug and provides the sky’s only light aside from the minuscule stars. In order to keep the moon “forever a-glow,” Rabbit crosses the world to secure more aguamiel, nectar that “brims in the heart of the first and holy maguey,” an agave plant.
But clever Opossum wants to taste the aguamiel, so he uses his walking stick to crack open the moon and siphon off some of the nectar. Later, ashamed that the moon has been depleted of the substance that made it glow, Opossum journeys deep into the earth to fill another jug with fire and, in the process, burns the tip of his tail. Afterward, with a “blazing sun” in the sky, Rabbit and Opossum become the “Guardians of Light.”
Bowles’ spare, evocative text flows like poetry: “Rabbit made her way down the Great Ceiba’s trunk and trekked across the sea-ringed world.” He seamlessly captures the nuances of the traditional tales from which this story draws, which are discussed in a detailed note that closes the book.
Álvarez’s compositions are sophisticated and uncluttered as he arranges visual elements with elegance and balance. Most of the spreads feature a pitch-black background punctuated by gleaming pinpoint stars. Layered atop are the subdued, earth-toned colors of beautifully crafted, gently stylized figures so remarkably textured that you can almost count the number of hairs on Rabbit’s body.
Ancient Night is wondrous, sparkling and easily one of the best picture books of 2023.