HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Single Light
Author: Maia Wojciechowska
Illustrator: Seymour Leichman
Publisher: Bantam, republished 1976
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Wojciechowska, Maia. A Single Light (published in 1968 by Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 49 E. 33rd St., New York City, NY 10016). Shortly after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Ramon de Prada, who was from the village of Almas in Andalucia, Spain, but had gone to Madrid to seek his fortune, returns to Almas, marries, and has a daughter. The girl turns out to be deaf and mute, and the mother dies six months afterward. A kindly neighbor, Flora Garcia, names the girl Anna and takes care of her until she turns five, when she comes back to her father’s house to tend her grandfather’s goats. When the girl is fifteen, Senora Garcia, whose husband has just died, has a sickly child but must go to work in her late husband’s place, so she hires the girl to tend the child. Unfortunately, the child dies. The girl tries to return home, but her father rejects her, so the village priest invites her to live in the parish house and work in the church.
While cleaning, the girl finds a marble sculpture of the Christ child hidden in the church. Having been disowned by her father, having lost the child for which she cared, and finding no affection from either the priest or his housekeeper, the girl adopts the sculpture for her own to love. Then an American art expert, Larry Katchen, comes to town and determines that the sculpture is a long missing piece by a famous Italian artist named Angelini, for which Katchen has spent his entire career looking. The townspeople are overjoyed at the prospect of the fame and fortune the sculpture might bring to Almas and build a special case in which to secure it. However, the girl steals it and runs away into the forest. The townspeople, urged on by a hunchback who also works in the church but has a secret longing to be a leader, go to track her down with murderous threats. The priest and Katchen take the latter’s car in an attempt to locate her also. Will they find her? What will happen to the statue? And more importantly, what will become of the girl?
This book by Maia Wojciechowska, who won the 1965 Newbery Medal for Shadow of a Bull, was a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee in 1970. It has a slow, thoughtful plot with a rather abrupt ending, but other than a few references to drinking wine, there is nothing objectionable. Of course, a lot of Roman Catholic beliefs and practices are mentioned. The themes of the novel include despair, hatred, love, and understanding. The characterization of the girl is well done, and the frustration that she feels is portrayed clearly. The story contains powerful lessons on the ability of genuine empathy for another to change people’s minds and the dangers of mob mentality. And it has an interesting look at people with disabilities. One might even see a spiritual side to the story as it pertains to believing in God.