Let There Be…

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”   Plato

This shortest day of a too-dark year seems  a good time to share a story I sometimes tell on school visits. I can’t remember where I first heard or read it, and I change it a bit every time.

Once there was a king who was growing old. Soon it would be time to leave his kingdom to one of his three daughters, so he called them all to him. Which of them could fill the throne room, wall to wall and ceiling to floor with something precious? She would inherit the crown.

The first daughter ran to the royal coffers and had the servants drag in bag upon bag of gold coins and spill them out. Yet they did not fill the room.

The second daughter ran to the royal wardrobe and had the maids carry in piles of gowns and jewels and dancing shoes. They did not fill the room either.

The third daughter stood before her father and quietly smiled. She reached into her pocket, making her big sisters laugh and sneer. As if a person could fill this grand room with something small enough to fit into her hand!

But they stopped laughing when their sister drew out …a candle. For when she lit it, its yellow glow grew and grew till it reached every corner of the room, spreading its golden warmth everywhere.

Books, I tell the kids, are a lot like that candle. Stories and poems glow and spark and warm the world with their shining light. They show us the way. They make us less afraid. They fit in our pockets, yet their light fills hearts. A book, some  poet once said, “should be a ball of light in one’s hands.”

So on this longest night of the year, let’s light candles, let’s build fires, let’s write and read and share stories. Let’s remember again some of the wisest words ever written. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”



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Tricia Springstubb
Tricia is the author of many books for middle grade, most recently "Every Single Second" (HarperCollins) and the third book in the Cody series, "Cody and the Rules of Life" (Candlewick Press). A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, she lives in Cleveland OH. You can find out more about her and her work at www.triciaspringstubb.com
  1. I’m late to this, but so glad I read it today – on the first day of a new year. Perfect post. Thank you so much.

    • Thank you, Patricia, and may your new year be limned with golden light!

  2. Beautiful, Tricia! Thank you. Love, Amy

  3. Thank you Tricia. I teach Shakespeare and I love this twist on the King Lear story. I am also a Quaker so I love the idea of books being like light.

    • Caroline, thanks so much for this perceptive comment! I think the original story was about sons, but I changed it, never thinking of Lear. How can this be, when my husband and I named our third daughter Cordelia?

  4. Beautiful. Thank you for this lovely way to celebrate the season!

    • Thank you, Heather! Hope your days shine.

  5. Thank-you for your reminder to live in light through sharing stories and literature. Your words are perfect for this day! I don’t think I’ve heard the candle story you shared before, and I plan to share it with my library students at my school. We live in the Northwest, where it does get pretty dark in the winter. Writing on this winter solstice, I have to say I am thinking a lot about the light.
    I too love to collect stories that have some sort of illumination in them. One that comes to mind is a story that Chief Lelooska tells in Spirit of the Cedar People about how Young Raven steals the light from his father (Old Raven) who has been keeping it in a box. He opens the box and finds a shimmering gold ball that he throws into the air. There are many versions of this story, but this one is my favorite. A few years ago, our school (University Child Development School) voted Illumination to be the theme, and our faculty collected literature related to light. It was that year that my students also seemed to grow a healthy respect for the dark—the quiet resting, the needed dormancy of plants, time to sleep and read and wonder. And a time to think about candles, lighting the way, waking. Thanks again for the reminder, Tricia.

    • Many thanks for your story, Nancy, and for the reminder that the dark has its own mysterious, often healing, powers.

  6. Thank you, Tricia! It’s wonderful to read this as I sit surrounded by twinkling lights in the darkness of this first morning of winter.

  7. A lovely post, Tricia. Thank you for the reminders of the power of light and the impact of stories.

    • Thank you for YOUR stories, Michele!