BEYOND WONDERFUL—ON THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STAR by Amy Hest, illustrations by Jenni Desmond – Review by Carol Coven Grannick
The children sit on a rug, in two uneven rows at my feet. I am on a preschool chair with a book in my hands, as yet unopened. Someone whispers. Someone else pokes someone. But then the quiet settles. “Hello, Friends,” I say. “This is one of my favorite books.” It’s my weekly reading time at the early childhood center where I used to work. The time is sacred to me, and I hope, to them.
I choose books carefully for the early childhood classrooms. Loving the book is not enough. There are other considerations. What time of year is it—beginning, middle, end? What are the children’s developmental needs during this particular time in their journey through the year? Who are the children in this room, and are they involved in a particular exploration that has ignited their energies and focus?
I choose wonderful books capable of engaging young children’s minds and hearts, intellects and imaginations. There are many to choose from. And most of the time, I look out at them and see engaged looks, eyes wide open and faces still with attention or reacting with emotion. I read certain books each year, and always search for new ones, too.
But an occasional book is beyond wonderful. An occasional book transports the children—mind, emotions, and even body—into the pages of the book. ON THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STAR (Amy Hest, illus. by Jenni Desmond) is this kind of book for this group, at this time in the children’s lives, on this particular day.
The cover illustration is delicious. Rabbit and Dog gaze at one another in some combination of delight, quiet joy, discovery, and deep pleasure of a shared experience. The story then begins with Rabbit’s and Dog’s contented lives alone, with a fence between them in a great expanse of land and sky. We have a gentle mystery now, tempered perfectly so that the profound question it raises does not overpower the narrative flow.
The little ones are more than attentive. Their bodies lean in towards me, towards the book. I almost hear heart rates beat, first in a calm, curious way, and later with the increased speed of mystery. My body leans toward them. We are in a deep experience together, one so compelling that we are lost in the story together. All of them. Little sounds pop or burble from a mouth or two in response to the beautiful text, evocative illustrations.
Then come Hest’s perfectly timed questions: “Who could be dog’s friend?”
“Rabbit!” the children shout. They are relieved, happy, thrilled.
I sigh and nod, then repeat softly, “Rabbit.”
On the same night, Dog asks, “Who could be [Rabbit’s] friend?”
I see the excited anticipation in the children’s eyes. What will happen now that Rabbit and Dog each want to become a friend.
The shooting star comes—the children gasp!—and goes. They sigh. We watch the animals retreat to their homes, each thinking about the other and “their star” in my most favorite (if I had to choose, which I don’t want to do) illustration, too priceless and profound to try to describe.
And then Rabbit brings cocoa and Dog brings biscuits to the fence to share. Our hearts are ready to break with joy and in spare, heartfelt text we hear: “I could be your friend” and “yes, please”—language not only for Rabbit and Dog but for these young children—and indeed, for all of us—to use in our lives.
ON THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STAR is packed lovingly with something for everyone. For the little two year-olds turning three, the identification with the comforts of home and the wonder of the shooting star captivate them. For the older threes and early fours, the issues of contentment alone and the pleasure of making a friend invite sharing of experiences of making friends and shooting stars. They wonder, Will they stay friends after the star is gone? For the oldest pre-K children, who will attend kindergarten next year, a few ask the profound What if…questions: What if there had been no shooting star? Would Rabbit and Dog have found a way to become friends? They were ‘ready’, but could they have each made the move? And of course, we all have the question for any age: am I able to reach out to another—someone who is different than I am?
When I close the book, it’s as if the children have been in the field with Rabbit and Dog, as if we’ve all seen the shooting star. And the children cheer the friendship—which tells us, in fact, that we are not perfectly fine alone. Not always, anyway.
And definitely not on the night of the shooting star.
Carol Coven Grannick is an author, poet, and chronicler. Her debut MG novel in verse, REENI’S TURN (Fitzroy Books, 2020) handles issues of courage, self-awareness, and self-acceptance in the context of preteen body changes and the epidemic of dieting in younger children. Her poetry and fiction has appeared/is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, Hello, and Hunger Mountain. She is a regular columnist for the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind, a reporter for Cynsations, and a member of the GROG Blog.