Our city’s main public library, just down the street from our house, has a shop where they sell books, so I picked this one up for little E. It has the feeling of a book from another place. I think it’s from Portugal.
Lately my daughter has a strange reaction to stories with certain kinds of conflicts. For one, she’s starting to read more books that have conflicts. Early on, books with narrative usually just wound up toward bedtime or successful potty. The closest was Hug by Jez Alborough, where the child gorilla noticed that every other animal hugged its parental figure but his own was missing, until they help him find her and Mommy gorilla and Bobo gorilla embrace, and all the animals join in a big hug.
My daughter has started to listen to these stories with a knitted brow. Dotty (by Opal) has trouble crossing the little river, and when she tries to fly like a bird, she falls down. My daughter is troubled, and frowns, and avoids the book next time until we clarify for her that everything turns out okay, and it’s okay to run into a little trouble crossing the river, if you just keep at it and find a way.
And in the stories that I tell her (they usually feature Linus from Peanuts, for some reason her favorite narrative protagonist), I’ve started having conflicts… conflicts of loss, of defeat, of loneliness, or struggle. She knits her brow, looks up at me, wonders why I would lead Linus into this wilderness. And she’s started to like Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go!, a gift from my professor Laura Sterponi, and she points at the creatures on the darker pages when triumph is not at hand and there are Seussian monsters and pugnacious adversaries littering the page.
Cunha’s book features a young girl, staring out the window at the boats beside her house and having nightmares about her fisherman father facing dangers at sea. Assuaging her fears, her mother shows her a book of lighthouses, and she is inspired to make one (with the assistance of her toys) of her own. She reaches up for the brightest star, a close personal acquaintance, to hold on her lap to light her very own lighthouse so that her father’s ship can find its way home. No reunion completes the story, but it ends with the same waiting, the same harbor of expectation, that inspired the dreams in the first place.
The book is devastating for we fathers who throw ourselves into oceans of labor. But it’s mostly beautiful for children’s patchwork hopes, for the reminder that they cannot imagine any real reason, not seas or the distance to stars or the darkness of waiting, why they and you cannot be together again. It is my duty as a father sometimes to see that distance, to recognize that I have to get away to work, to fish, to provide. It is also my duty sometimes to be just as blind, to see no other beacon lights than the one she seizes for me.