Kitten’s First Full Moon: A Lighthearted Lesson in Learning

A kitten sets out in search of the moon and is surprised to find something entirely different, but what she discovers is immensely satisfying all the time.

Cover of Kitten's First Full Moon“Let your kids find their way,” counseled Barney Saltzberg, the author of Beautiful Oops!, a deeply imaginative book that teaches children it’s okay to make mistakes. The idea that we need to provide children with space to learn and freedom to fail is not new. But all kids can use some gentle reassurance that the mistakes they’re making are an essential part of learning.

Kitten’s First Full Moon (public library) by Kevin Henkes provides that reassurance in the form of a silly story about a kitten who tries to drink the moon. Kitten tries licking and chasing the moon, but she’s continually met with failure after failure. It’s a playful reminder that learning — and the inevitable mistakes that come with it — isn’t always easy.

Kitten first sees the moon when she’s standing on the house porch. The black and white illustrations that complement the story are a bold touch.

It was Kitten’s first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, There’s a little bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it. So she closed eyes and stretched her neck and opened her mouth and licked. But Kitten only ended up with a bug on her tongue. Poor Kitten!

Artwork from the book Kitten's First Moon

Artwork from the book Kitten's First Moon

Artwork from the book Kitten's First Moon

The book is full of Kitten’s mishaps, which escalate and eventually land her head-first in a pond. But the story ends on a high note when Kitten returns home and finds a big bowl of milk on the porch. That you can always return home for comfort and consolation is a powerful lesson for children.

This is a story of serendipity. Kitten sets out in search of the moon and is surprised to find something entirely different. What she discovers is immensely satisfying all the time.

Then, in the pond, Kitten saw another bowl of milk. And it was bigger. What night!

So she raced down the tree and raced through the grass and raced to the edge of the pond. She leaped with all her might — Poor Kitten! She was wet and sad and tired and hungry.

So she went back home — and there was a great big bowl of milk on the porch, just waiting for her. Lucky Kitten!

Artwork from the book Kitten's First Moon

Artwork from the book Kitten's First Moon

The book Kitten's First Moon

The story and the illustrations are elegant in their simplicity, as is the implicit message. What kitten loses to failure, she gains in knowledge. In the process, she discovers that mistakes are essential to learning.

On his website, Henkes discusses the book’s humble origins.

The story began as part of a failed attempt at creating a young concept book about circles. There was one line from the manuscript that I like: ‘The cat thought the moon was a bowl of milk.’ This line stuck in the back of my mind. I expanded upon it to write Kitten’s First Full Moon.

All along I saw the book in my mind as a black-and-white book. I’d long wanted to do a book with limited or no color, and for the first time, I’d written a story that seemed just right for this approach.

The text is simple and young, and so I wanted the art to be simple, too. I liked the idea of having a white cat, a white moon, and a white bowl of milk surrounded by the night.

Kitten’s First Full Moon is a beautiful children’s book that deserves a spot on every child’s bookshelf. Winner of the Caldecott Medal, this timeless story will no doubt be treasured for generations to come. Complement with Scarecrowa book that celebrates life from a scarecrow’s perspective.

Beautiful Oops! Proves That Good Things Can Come From Bad Mistakes

A playful book with a timeless lesson for young readers — it’s okay to mess up, and failure is nothing to be ashamed of.

Cover of Beautiful Oops“We need to think about failure differently,” Ed Catmull asserted in Creativity, Inc., his tell-all book on managing Pixar Animation Studios. “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new.” 

Making the most of mistakes is a central theme of Beautiful Oops! (public library) by Barney Saltzberg, a playful and thoughtfully designed book for children ages three and up. With every page comes a new accident — a folded corner, a couple drops of spilled paint — and an interactive opportunity for readers to “do” something creative with it. For example, on one page children pull back flaps to see how a stain left by a coffee mug can be transformed into a beautiful work of art.

The mistakes in the book cleverly focus on art, but it’s not difficult for readers to draw parallels between this theme and virtually everything else in life. The overriding message is summarized in the final pages of the book.

When you think you have made a mistake…


Think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful!


Artwork from the book Beautiful Oops img_1217

Some readers may question the premise of this book. The logic seems somewhat counterintuitive in a world where teachers still grade papers in red ink and assign “F” grades (for “failing,” of course) to subpar assignments. Even in classrooms without grades, most students receive a “passing” or “failing” mark.

Conventional wisdom suggests that when it comes to mistakes, we should help our children as much as possible. Presumably that entails helping them avoid making mistakes whenever possible. After all, isn’t failure something children should be ashamed of? Shouldn’t parents encourage kids to actively try to avoid making mistakes?

No, say experts. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, argues that parents should step back and let their children make mistakes.

Hanging back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It’s easier when they’re young — tolerating a stumbling toddler is far different from allowing a preteenager to meet her friends at the mall. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.

If children are able to live with mistakes and even failing, why does it drive us crazy? So many parents have said to me, ‘I can’t stand to see my child unhappy.’ If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business. The small challenges that start in infancy (the first whimper that doesn’t bring you running) present the opportunity for ‘successful failures,’ that is, failures your child can live with and grow from. To rush in too quickly, to shield them, to deprive them of those challenges is to deprive them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life.

Jessica Lahey, an English teacher and the author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, wrote in The Atlantic that she regularly sees her students prevented from making mistakes.

Children make mistakes, and when they do, it’s vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty. Year after year, my ‘best’ students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.

Beautiful Oops! gets children off on the right foot by teaching them it’s okay to make mistakes. Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s a learning opportunity — a chance to grow personally and even produce a better outcome than originally expected.


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After reading such a beautiful book, children may want to try their own hand at creating something new. For parents of young children who like to draw, author and illustrator Barney Saltzberg shared some advice in an interview.

Expose them to all types of art. Give them lots of paper! Don’t be judgmental. Let them explore. If the sky they paint is pink with yellow polka dots, that’s fine! There is not a ‘correct’ way to draw a cat! Let your kids find their way. Everything at school has a right and wrong answer. Making art is time for letting the rules go on vacation.

Beautiful Oops! is a tremendous accomplishment. The book’s engaging interactivity holds children’s attention time and time again, and the powerful message — that mistakes are inevitable and, in many ways, desirable — resonates with readers of all ages. Complement with Mossya touching book for children that explores the nature of wilderness, and Jan Brett’s drawing advice.

Embracing Failure: Ed Catmull on the Intrinsic Value of Mistakes

“Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new.”

Cover of Creativity, Inc.Mistakes are probably not the first thing that come to mind when you think of Pixar Animation Studios, the birthplace of blockbuster movies like Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and Cars. But according to Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation, mistakes and failures are essential to Pixar’s continued success. In Creativity, Inc. (public library), Catmull shares his views on mistakes and reveals how Pixar as an organization embraces failure as an integral part of the creative process. Catmull’s insights also provide valuable clues for parents hoping to teach their children that mistakes are a natural part of learning — not something to fear.

Catmull is not the first high-profile executive to advocate for mistakes. Edwin Land, the cofounder of the Polaroid Corporation, was fond of saying that “a mistake is an event, the full benefit of which has not yet been turned to your advantage.” Catmull shares that sentiment.

In Creativity, Inc., he notes that Pixar experienced “a major meltdown” on every one of its first eleven films. He doesn’t view that as a bad thing. “We were able to treat them as learning experiences,” he said. “Yes, they were painful, but we emerged better and stronger because of them. I came to think of our meltdowns as a necessary part of doing our business.”

Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA
Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA (Photograph: Lucius Kwok)

According to Catmull, most people acquire their fear of failure early in life. This irrational fear can have disastrous consequences, both personally and professionally.

For most us, failure comes with baggage — a lot of baggage — that I believe is traced directly back to our days in school. From a very early age, the message is drilled into our heads: Failure is bad; failure means you didn’t study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or — worse! — aren’t smart enough to begin with. Thus, failure is something to be ashamed of. This perception lives on long into adulthood, even in people who have learned to parrot the oft-repeated arguments about the upside of failure. How many articles have you read on that topic alone? And yet, even as they nod their heads in agreement, many readers of those articles still have the emotional reaction that they had as children. They just can’t help it: That early experience of shame is too deep-seated to erase. All the time in my work, I see people resist and reject failure and try mightily to avoid it, because regardless of what we say, mistakes feel embarrassing. There is a visceral reaction to failure: It hurts.

We need to think about failure differently. I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality.) And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.

Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull (Photograph: Web Summit)

Catmull says that we avoid failure at our own peril. Mistakes are essential for learning at all ages, as anyone who has learned to ride a bike can testify.

Left to their own devices, most people don’t want to fail. But Andrew Stanton isn’t most people… He’s known about Pixar for repeating the phrases “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.” He thinks of failure like learning to ride a bike; it isn’t conceivable that you would learn to do this without making mistakes — without toppling over a few times. “Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,” he says. If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes. Says Andrew: “You wouldn’t say to somebody who is first learning to play the guitar, ‘You better think really hard about where you put your fingers on the guitar neck before you strum, because you only get to strum once, and that’s it. And if you get that wrong, we’re going to move on.’ That’s no way to learn, is it?”


Even though people in our offices have heard Andrew say this repeatedly, many still miss the point. They think it means accept failure with dignity and move on. The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy — trying to avoid failure by outthinking it — dooms you to fail.

Creativity, Inc. provides valuable management advice and remarkable insight into the inner workings of one of the world’s greatest animation studios. But Catmull is more than just another skilled manager — he’s a parent, and the book has some important lessons about how early education can have a long-term impact on children’s lives. In that sense, Creativity, Inc. is a worthwhile addition to any parent’s bookshelf. Complement with Hello Ruby, a book that teaches the basics of computational learning and reassures children that it’s okay to make mistakes.