When I was a kid, I thought that Shel Silverstein was the greatest. My favorite book of his was A Light in the Attic—an unnerving yet hilarious grouping of poems and illustrations, from a man who understood that kids (and adults) are able to absorb deeper meanings while at the same time being entertained.
Silverstein begins his collection with the title poem “A Light in the Attic.” It’s a poem about seeing a light on in the upstairs room of a house, knowing that someone is inside of that little room and aware of the world outside. The illustration–an eerie one–is of a child’s head, the sides of the face converging above the temples into the roof of a house: a little window, with a little face staring out from behind it, sits in the middle of the child’s forehead. The poem and drawing say to the reader, “Hey, I know you’re just a kid, but you get it, okay? So listen up.” Silverstein’s work pushed me to understand it, and if I couldn’t it at least made me giggle. For that reason, I loved it.
As an adult, I find less time to read books intended for children, but recently I read In Search of the Light (A Conscious Living Publication), a new children’s picture book written by Leonard Jacobson, a spiritual leader and founder of The Conscious Living Foundation, and illustrated by Italian artist Fiammetta Dogi. In an interview with Sacramento & Co., Jacobson explains that in the late 1970s he quit his work as a barrister in Australia, after deciding that it wasn’t his true calling. Not quite knowing what to do with himself, he began writing what would become In Search of the Light at the suggestion of a friend. He has since written numerous spiritual books for adults.
In Search of the Light, the product of three years of work for Jacobson, is the story of a group of animals who are catapulted into a world of fear after an eclipse of the sun. The elder animals worry that “if it happens again and soon, there’ll be no sun, only moon. There’ll be no day, only night. It could mean the end of light.” To save the day (literally), four brave animals set off into the previously unexplored forest…in search of the light. The forest, dark and scary, is full of witches and a howling wind that explains to the fearless four that in order to find the light, they must “look for a friend with his own inner light. He’ll take you to a land where nothing seems right. It’s there you must go in search of the light, or at least you must try.” As foretold by the wise wind, the animals meet Frederick Firefly who leads them to a world of opposites where the sky is green and the grass is blue! It is beyond this wacky land that the animals reach a fork in the road. One direction is labeled “The Easy Way” while another is labeled “The Hard Way.” Unsure of which road to take, they decide to take the middle road, on which “there’s no judgment. No right or wrong,” that “goes no-where!” Why do they go no-where? Because “when you’re beyond all desire and beyond all fear, you’ll find the light. Right now. Right here.” In the end, the animals return home to the meadow with the knowledge that the light was inside of them all along!
Honestly, I’m not sure that it’s clear in the end that the animals find the light within themselves. I’m not really certain that the book makes a whole lot of sense in general. Jacobson says in his interview that the book took him three years to write because he was on the same spiritual path as the animals during that time. It is my personal feeling that Jacobson’s journey–given that a grown man made it–probably isn’t for kids. Perhaps my mind is closed off to being in the now, and I’m the first to admit that I am not spiritually inclined (which makes it sound like I can’t talk to ghosts or something) but this book might be pretty heavy trip for a six-year-old without much to redeem it besides the illustrations—which Jacobson says that kids as young as three years old really enjoy. I believe the main issue is this: if a kid can’t quite get the message, the story doesn’t play on another level to entertain.
Still, maybe the book just isn’t for me. After all, I’m not a kid any more, and I’ve never been one to subscribe to the teachings of mysticism. I guess I could best be described by Shel Silverstein’s poem “Batty”: “The baby bat/ Screamed out in a fright,/ ‘Turn on the dark,/ I’m afraid of the light.’”