Lights in the Night

Chris Barash, Maya Shleifer (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – April 27, 2022

Lights in the Night, a brief, poet­ic med­i­ta­tion on Shab­bat, is per­fect for intro­duc­ing chil­dren to the week­ly seren­i­ty that is cen­tral to Jew­ish life. Alter­nat­ing between impres­sion­is­tic pic­tures of a fam­i­ly wel­com­ing the Sab­bath with draw­ings that actu­al­ly glow when held under a light, this book is both beau­ti­ful and acces­si­ble to young read­ers. Chris Barash’s rhyming text is elo­quent, and Maya Shleifer’s pic­tures present peo­ple who are root­ed both in their home and in the greater world. Shab­bat is a spe­cial event for Jews and also a sym­bol of atten­tive­ness to the envi­ron­ment that we share with everyone.

The book offers chil­dren a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion between the light of the can­dles and oth­er forms of illu­mi­na­tion, both phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al. A flash­light in fog, a lantern out­doors, and a light­house guid­ing boats to shore all resem­ble the del­i­cate lights blessed as Shab­bat begins. All the lights depict­ed in the book are signs of wel­come, reas­sur­ances of the bal­ance inher­ent in both the nat­ur­al and human-made parts of the world. The fam­i­ly, a father, moth­er, and one child, are com­fort­able in both. They even enjoy their meal out­doors in nature, as well as indoors in their home, empha­siz­ing that there is no bar­ri­er between the two.

The Jew­ish sab­bath is often iden­ti­fied with the metaphor of a queen; enhanc­ing the day with extra beau­ty is an impor­tant mitz­vah for sab­bath observers. Lights in the Night affirms that there are dif­fer­ent ways to ele­vate the occa­sion, and this choice offers a con­trast to the famil­iar pic­ture. Some chil­dren may asso­ciate an ele­gant table or dis­tinc­tive cloth­ing with this unique day, but Barash and Shleifer sub­tly depict a fam­i­ly whose state of mind is enough to pro­mote rev­er­ence. Their cloth­ing might be worn every day and their meal is far from elab­o­rate, yet they obvi­ous­ly approach the end of the week with deep appre­ci­a­tion. The draw­ings are spare and sym­bol­ic, with lim­it­ed ele­ments care­ful­ly placed against a back­ground of blank space. The book over­all is con­cise, with noth­ing extra­ne­ous to inter­rupt the flow of words and images.

Chil­dren will fol­low the light on each page, as white and pale yel­low emanate from these pic­tures, stand­ing out from the calm dark­ness. In one scene, the moon match­es the bright­ness of street­lights; in anoth­er, fire­flies reflect the light of the stars. Shab­bat is both a time apart from the nor­mal world and a chance to enjoy its won­ders unin­ter­rupt­ed by ordi­nary demands. Barash and Shleifer have cap­tured this para­dox per­fect­ly for chil­dren and their families.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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