Gath­er­ing Sparks

Howard Schwartz; Kristi­na Swarn­er, illus.
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
In the begin­ning, accord­ing to the 16th cen­tu­ry myth by Rab­bi Isaac Luria, God sent forth light in frag­ile ves­sels that shat­tered, scat­ter­ing sparks every­where. Peo­ple were cre­at­ed to col­lect those hid­den sparks and so repair the world, a con­cept that fuels the Jew­ish tra­di­tion of tikkun olam. Nowhere is the grand sweep of the Ari’s tale more inti­mate­ly told for chil­dren than in this lumi­nous new pic­ture book, where Schwartz’s lyri­cal text glows inside Swarner’s soft mixed-media spreads. The book opens with cozy con­ver­sa­tion between a grand­fa­ther and his grand­daugh­ter under a night sky. She asks the uni­ver­sal ques­tion, Where did all the stars come from?” His answer extends the Ari’s sto­ry in a com­pelling, eas­i­ly under­stood metaphor. Swarner’s ves­sels are mys­te­ri­ous, mast­ed ships that sail fes­tive­ly out across a deep blue sky. The stars in heav­en are light from those ves­sels, but oth­er sparks still need to be found on earth. With each good deed she can do, the grand­fa­ther tells her — plant­i­ng trees, help­ing her baby sis­ter, being kind to ani­mals, lov­ing some­one — the grand­daugh­ter releas­es anoth­er spark to become a star up in the sky. She will make the world a bet­ter place. Bit by bit, with each indi­vid­ual help­ing, the ves­sels and the world will become whole. In an after­word, Schwartz fur­ther explains the source of the sto­ry and the res­o­nance of tikkun olam. This book will be trea­sured by reli­gious schools and fam­i­lies alike. For ages 4 – 8.

Read­ing Guide

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions