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 Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.