“Light The Lamps” is a story set in ancient Israel. It is told by a young girl whose stepmother is pitied by the other women in the village because she will never have a child of her own. Her stepmother loves the girl but is sad because she desperately wants a baby of her own. “Sometimes her yearning fills the house, and then I flee the darkened rooms and go to visit my friends, Mary and Joseph and their baby”. The girl loves playing with baby Jesus and sometimes spends days with his family to escape seeing her own stepmother’s suffering.
One day the girl takes the stepmother to Mary and Joseph’s house, and Mary puts the sleeping Jesus into the stepmother’s hands… This encounter eases the woman’s pain. When they return home the stepmother fetches a wooden camel toy, which she was saving for the child of her own, and gives it to her stepdaughter. The young girl is happy, this concluding line of the story is a reflection of her joy: “She lights the lamps – in every room! Our house blazes, and we sit and eat bread together, my stepmother, my father and me”.
While this book is not associated with Christmas in its traditional sense and references infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph well after Jesus’s birth, it still has a place on my Christmas books shelf. Its message about counting one’s blessings and appreciating family and loved ones resonate with the spirit of Christmas.
“Light The Lamps” is written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Dee Huxley. It was published by Margaret Hamilton Books in 1994.
Margaret Wild is of South African descent, she moved to Australia in the early 1970s. It is so hard to give her talent as an author justice in a brief review. She is the author of some of the most impactful, impressive, affecting, emotional, touching, moving, poignant, stirring picture books that I have ever seen. She has written over 70 books for various ages, addressing a diverse range of themes and concerns. Many of her stories explore difficult themes such as death and loss (“Jenny Angel”), bullying (“Beast”), betrayal (“Fox”), facing one’s fears and anxieties (“Woolvs in the Sitee”).
Margaret Wild’s numerous awards and distinctions rightfully recognise her achievements and include, amongst others, the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award for “Jenny Angel”, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas; “The Very Best of Friends”, illustrated by Julie Vivas and “Fox”, illustrated by Ron Brooks. In 2008 she received the Nan Chauncy Award for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature in Australia. In 2011 she received Lady Cutler Award recognising outstanding service to children’s literature in NSW, Australia. She was also nominated for Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award twice in 2018 and 2019 and most recently, IBBY Australia has announced her as the Australian nominee for the 2021 Hans Christian Andersen Award.
Dee Huxley who illustrated this book is one of my favourite Australian illustrators. I have written about her earlier when reviewing “A Bush Christmas” by C.J. Dennis illustrated by Dee Huxley. “Light The Lamps” pastel drawings are as gentle as the children in this story, the young girl and Mary and Joseph’s infant. The hazy dreamlike illustrations transport one to the time two thousand years ago and immerse into Israel of Jesus’s childhood… Dee Huxley conveyed the very essence of the story in her usual perfect way.
As mentioned in the review of “A Bush Christmas” a great collection of Dee Huxley’s art, including the originals for “Light The Lamps”, can be seen at the “Pinerolo” cottage in the Blue Mountains, just under 2 hours’ drive from Sydney (read more about it here). “Pinerolo” is run by Margaret Hamilton, who published numerous fantastic children’s books during her outstanding publishing career, including “Light The Lamps” in 1994.
For other reviews of fabulous Christmas books click here. For other reviews of books illustrated by Dee Huxley click here.
A touching story about the present )
Touching on a few levels… Margaret Wild is very good at that.