January 2, 2003
‘Light’ From Darkness
What a year! Struggle and loss, the threat of war, earthquakes and elections. Like many of us, I'd begun to feel as though peace, not to mention peace of mind, was always going to stay just one upheaval away.
And then the man in UPS brown arrived. He brought an envelope containing a beautiful ray of hope, an exceptional picture book by Jane Breskin Zalben titled "Let There Be Light: Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World" (Dutton Books, $15.99). Zalben is well known as an illustrator-author, providing art for her own writings as well as others. With "Beni's First Chanukah," she began a popular series of picture books for the very young about various Jewish holidays ("Papa's Latkes," "Pearl's Passover," "Goldie's Purim," "Beni's First Wedding," etc.) Some of her more recent works are specifically aimed at enhancing Jewish family, food and fun.
In this new book, however, she turns instead to many different cultures and faiths, trying to offer universal reassurance to young readers in an uncertain time. Culling poems and prayers from across the world, Zalben chose simple texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, as well as African, Inuit and Native American traditions, and included the words of such leaders as Ghandi and the Dalai Lama. Often departing from her usual dry brush watercolor technique, she matched each quote with an illustration drawing on its cultural art, materials and patterns. Cut paper, collage and paint are used. Japanese rice paper, Egyptian papyrus, African bark paper and papers from Nepal, India and Italy were sought out; Persian miniatures, Islamic tiles and many other sources served as inspiration.
Zalben has included a serene Asian scroll illustrating the sixth-century words of Buddha and a smiling, curly lamb safe in its field opposite the 23rd Psalm. She shows a simple flower from seed to the dropping of its last petal opposite Kohelet 3:1-9, while the limitless purple-shadowed sky over a prayer for peace from Zimbabwe is as soothing and uplifting as the artist obviously hoped it might be. Through her work illuminating ageless words of love, faith, purpose, friendship and understanding, Zalben has contributed to tikkun olam and can help heal your family's world.
Rita Berman Frischer, long active in the fields of library and literature, currently works as a freelance writer, lecturer,reviewer, instructor and book group leader.