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Gathering Sparks Hardcover – August 3, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

K-Gr 3–Schwartz and Swarner have created another beautiful picture book based on Jewish folklore. The narration begins when “you” ask “your grandfather” about the origin of the stars. He responds that before people were created, God sent ships carrying light sailing across the sky. These fragile vessels broke apart, scattering their precious cargo across the Earth and sky. It is the job of the human race to gather the “sparks of light” and restore them to their proper place by doing acts of kindness and love. An endnote explains that the story is based on a Jewish myth, and although the author refers to “God,” there is no reference in the story to a specific religion. Schwartz's language is simple, personal, and poetic, and his use of the second person adds a sense of intimacy. The text is printed in a large attractive font on top of the full-spread, full-color illustrations, sometimes black on light, sometimes white on dark. Swarner's stylized, painterly artwork is soft and gentle and complements the peaceful mood of the text. The rich, textured greens of the grass and trees and the deep speckled blues of the sky contrast with the soft radiance of the child's and grandfather's faces. This is a handsome book with a timeless message.Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

A man and his grandchild go outside to look at the stars. Before the world began, Grandfather explains, God sent 10 vessels carrying light across the sky. If they had stayed intact, “the world would have been perfect,” but they became increasingly fragile and broke apart. Most of the light they carried formed the stars, but some sparks were lost. People’s love and good deeds have the power to release the hidden sparks, which rise up to restore the broken vessels and mend the world. An appended note explains the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which is based on a sixteenth-century rabbi’s teachings. From the opening narrative framework of grandfather and grandchild, the traditional story flows easily, then ebbs back, drawing the concepts of kindness and love into the child’s own experiences. The artwork creates mysterious effects, with hazy textures and muted colors that seem to glow with their own soft light. A quietly lovely picture book from the author and illustrator of Before You Were Born (2005). Preschool-Grade 3. --Carolyn Phelan

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 3 - 8 years
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press; First Edition edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596432802
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596432802
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 0.4 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Howard Schwartz is Professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has published three books of poetry, and several books of fiction, including The Captive Soul of the Messiah and Adam's Soul. He has also edited a four-volume set of Jewish folktales, which includes Elijah's Violin & Other Jewish Fairy Tales, Miriam's Tambourine: Jewish Folktales from Around the World, Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural and, most recently, Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical Tales. He has also edited three major anthologies: Imperial Messages: One Hundred Modern Parables, Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets (with Anthony Rudolf), and Gates to the New City: A Treasury of Modern Jewish Tales. His recent book, Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for 1999. In addition, Schwartz has also published ten children's books, including The Diamond Tree (with Barbara Rush, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 1992), Next Year in Jerusalem: 3000 Years of Jewish Tales (which won the National Jewish Book Award and the Aesop Award of the American Folklore Society, both in 1996), A Coat for the Moon (with Barbara Rush, which won Anne Izard Storyeller's Choice Award for 1998 and the 1999 Honor Title of the Storytelling World Awards, and The Day the Rabbi Disappeared: Jewish Holiday Tales of Magic (which won the National Jewish Book Award and The Aesop Prize of the American Folklore Society for 2000). His major book, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, won the National Jewish Book Award for 2005 in the category of Reference. Schwartz lives in St. Louis with his wife Tsila, a calligrapher, and his three children, Shira, Nathan and Miriam.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Will Riddle on April 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I hate, hate, hate to write a critical review for such a morally good book, and I am still giving it four stars for all the great things about it. But I think it's important for parents to know that the story in it--while BEAUTIFUL and a very appealing concept--is actually more of a Manichean tale than a Jewish one. That is to say, it is originally a doctrine from the religion Manicheism. Manicheists believed that goodness was released into the world in little pieces, and that they could be released into the cosmic order when we did good deeds. This helped the struggle for good fight against the inclination to do evil (though neither would ever win). This legend forms the backbone of this story, in almost unaltered form, except for the insertion that God created these vessels of good before He created the world (i.e. somewhere between Genesis 1:8 and 1:9).

The author maintains (on the last page) that this book is of Jewish origin, from Rabbi Isaac Lucia. She says that the story is really about Jews having their destiny post-diaspora, having been flung all over the world. And that their role is tikkun olam, or repair of the world. That makes for a nice allegory. And to be sure, my littlest kids loved this book. As a parent, I like the concept of "gathering sparks." It makes something difficult to think about (restoration) really easy for kids to understand. It's a lot like the "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" concept.

But as a religious parent, I was still a little disturbed to see such a similarity between this story and a religion that was dubbed extremely heretical by Christians and Jews throughout the Middle Ages. If you're a purist and care about this sort of thing, I wouldn't buy the book. Or if you don't approve of the tradition of reading stories into the biblical account, then don't.

If you don't care about any of this kind of stuff, go for it! The illustrations are wonderful and you'll all enjoy it at face value.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jewish Book World Magazine on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In the beginning, according to the 16thcentury myth by Rabbi Isaac Luria, God sent forth light in fragile vessels that shattered, scattering sparks everywhere. People were created to collect those hidden sparks and so repair the world, a concept that fuels the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam. Nowhere is the grand sweep of the Ari's tale more intimately told for children than in this luminous new picture book, where Schwartz's lyrical text glows inside Swarner's soft mixed-media spreads. The book opens with cozy conversation between a grandfather and his granddaughter under a night sky. She asks the universal question, "Where did all the stars come from?" His answer extends the Ari's story in a compelling, easily understood metaphor. Swarner`s vessels are mysterious, masted ships that sail festively out across a deep blue sky. The stars in heaven are light from those vessels, but other sparks still need to be found on earth. With each good deed she can do, the grandfather tells her - planting trees, helping her baby sister, being kind to animals, loving someone - the granddaughter releases another spark to become a star up in the sky. She will make the world a better place. Bit by bit, with each individual helping, the vessels and the world will become whole. In an afterword, Schwartz further explains the source of the story and the resonance of tikkun olam. This book will be treasured by religious schools and families alike. For ages 4 - 8. Sharon Elswit
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Carney on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful book, both in the words and the illustrations. After we'd borrowed it from the library, we had to buy a copy for ourselves, as well as for an adult in our family that is always giving and doing good deeds for others. She was quite moved and loved it as much as we did. Excellent message, we love this one!!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By AJL Reviews on January 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As they look at the night sky, a child asks his grandfather where all the stars came from. Grandfather's answer is that "before people were created, God sent vessels carrying light sailing across the sky, which broke into sparks." He tells his grandson that the stars are part of these sparks, and "now it is the job of the human race to perform acts of loving kindness to gather those sparks of light and return them to their proper place," giving the boy such age-appropriate example as planting a tree, helping your baby sister, and being kind to animals as causing sparks to rise up and help form a peaceful world. A note at the end of the book explains the concept of the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam: that for every good deed we do, a little bit of the world will be repaired. Since the God in this book is not designated as being the God of any specific religion, Gathering Sparks can be used to communicate this message with those from every background.
The book is gorgeously designed. Kristina Swarner's luminous, full-page mixed-media illustrations glow in muted colors, accenting the dreamy quality of Howard Schwartz's poetic text, which is based on a 16th century Jewish teaching about repairing the world. The award-winning author and illustrator have each written and illustrated many children's books and collaborated on Before You Were Born ( Roaring Book Press, 2005). Meant for ages 3- 6, this beautiful book is perfect for parents, grandparents and teachers to read with their children and students, and is highly recommended for all ages. Winner of a 2011 Sydney Taylor Book Award. Andrea Davidson
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