Jane Bresken Zalben
  • Review
By – December 16, 2011
Since 9/11, many books have been writ­ten and pub­lished to reas­sure chil­dren that there is hope for our world. In her pref­ace, Jane Bre­skin Zal­ben says that this was her impe­tus in writ­ing and illus­trat­ing Light. She attrib­ut­es the nar­ra­tive of the sto­ry to Rab­bi Isaac Luria, whom she cred­its with the found­ing of Kab­bal­ah. (Accord­ing to the Ency­clo­pe­dia Judaica, he was not the founder of Kab­bal­ah, but a renowned Kab­bal­ah schol­ar and thinker.) Accord­ing to his midrash, the secret work­ings of cre­ation are part of a vast cos­mo­log­i­cal dra­ma which is enact­ed in order to rec­ti­fy the orig­i­nal blem­ish in the world and to restore every­thing to its prop­er place.” Light is just twen­ty-four pages long, with under ten words on a page. The author has sec­u­lar­ized Rab­bi Luria’s midrash by omit­ting the words God” and holy.” Instead she uses the words Cre­ator” and spe­cial.” The book talks about man being cre­at­ed to com­plete the world by recov­er­ing the lost light, and find­ing that the light in ani­mals’ lov­ing eyes and some­times in them­selves would bring con­tent­ment, joy and peace, and that when they shared it with one anoth­er there was no more hate, hunger or war.” The val­ues of tikun olam in the book are derived from Judaism, but are not iden­ti­fied as specif­i­cal­ly Jew­ish. Zalben’s mul­ti-media paint­ings for this book are notably dif­fer­ent from the art in her many pop­u­lar pre­vi­ous books, where a del­i­cate­ly detailed small bear fam­i­ly is pre­sent­ed cel­e­brat­ing Jew­ish hol­i­days and cook­ing good food togeth­er. The illus­tra­tions for Light are large and free, and show a tex­tured can­vas full of inter­est­ing images made with a fas­ci­nat­ing array of mate­ri­als. Along with acrylic and oil based paint, pas­tel, col­ored pen­cil, and crayons, the artist notes that she has includ­ed gel poly­mer medi­um mixed with sand, dirt, leaves, table salt, sea salt, lin­seed oil, water, tur­pen­tine, bak­ing pow­der, Comet, Windex, and Clorox sprays, as well as quinoa seeds, kasha grains, sea­weed flower petals, berries and vines.” With all of this artis­tic free­dom, it is sur­pris­ing that the type­face cho­sen for the text is a bold black font with­out vari­a­tion of line or thick­ness. These sta­t­ic let­ters seem unsuit­ed for the grainy, nuanced back­grounds of Zalben’s evoca­tive paint­ings. It is also sur­pris­ing that the cho­sen cov­er art is a shiny explo­sion of geo­met­ric shapes that does not seem to match the love­ly paint­ings with­in. Hope­ful­ly, this beau­ti­ful­ly artis­tic book can find an audi­ence. Ages 4 – 10.

Read­ing Guide

Nao­mi Morse man­aged a pub­lic library children’s room in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land for many years, and then worked as head librar­i­an at the Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School Low­er School in Rockville, Mary­land. She has served on AJL’s Syd­ney Tay­lor Com­mit­tee, and last year (2008) was a mem­ber of ALA’s Calde­cott Com­mit­tee. She is an inde­pen­dent book reviewer.

Discussion Questions