Rolling through my Twitter feed one morning, I came upon a tweet by BookViral, a state of the art, sophisticated book review site. I went to their web site and read, At BookViral we focus our energy on discovering authors and illustrators because this is where we excel and we are passionate about the books that shape the minds of readers across the world. Okay. I was interested. I have three published books that need focused energy in the marketplace. As I read further on BookViral, I decided I would submit my novels to this site. And then I became mesmerized by a couple of books they had spotlighted. One was The Prayer by Stephan J. Myers. The cover of the book itself touched my heart and drew me in. It is an evocative illustration of a tattered, young boy with his head bowed over his knees. Has he given up? Is he praying? I had to read this book! An excerpt on the cover reads, Sometimes the children who need things the most, are lost to the night and a pale winter’s ghost… So I downloaded it on my e-reader and escaped into this child’s story to read over a few times to savor the lyrical and melancholy tale that reminded me just how much adults like me love children’s books.
On the inside page, there is an illustration of the boy holding a lantern with his back to the reader. The author writes, All I ask is a promise, that you will never forget the meaning in these words. Not the words themselves, but their meaning. Hmm…And then I was invited to follow the boy with his lantern into his world of sorrow and need.
The illustration of the tattered boy is beautiful. In his grief and poverty, there is a glow and light that surrounds him. It made me immediately think, perhaps due to the title, that he is not alone in his suffering. And if he is not alone, we are not alone. And because I’ve written about famine and hunger through the eyes of a child, I know this child is every child in the world who suffers want and need. And through the eyes of this child, I peek in windows with him where there are warm fires, holiday cheer, and ample food and love. The juxtaposition of the desperate orphan and the epitome of a happy home is powerfully rendered to illicit empathy, but also to question the quality of light – inner light, the light of the unseen as in God or angels, and the light of the lamp that the boy carries as he looks into windows. This lamp flickers and dies, as will the boy, but the light in the boy can never die. The pale winter’s ghost will come for him, but the ghost looks to us as our boat sails through the sky. Is this a challenge to many of us who, through the news, look down from our lofty lives to view the utter atrocities of children suffering deprivation in the world? We hear and see, but do we really hear and see? Will we always have the poor with us?
This is a Dickensian parable that has clever and musical rhyme. The tale is meditative and wistful; and the illustrations are colorful, vivid, and reveal a light that makes the story bearable and not didactic with moral finger pointing. Because of the texture and symphony of color in the illustrations, it is a book to hold and keep on a bookshelf to read during the holidays. Don’t read this book to your children the night before Christmas! Start the season with this book to create discussion about poverty, humanitarianism, and how to look out our windows and see, but also to open the door to invite in. And the light! Please discuss the light.