Sponsored by IBBY Slovakia. Text by Jan Uliciansky with artwork by Peter Cisarik.
The destiny of books is written in the stars
by Ján Uliciansky
Grown-ups often ask what will happen to books when children stop reading them. Perhaps this is one answer:
"We'll load them all onto huge space ships and send them to the stars!"
Books really are like stars in a night sky. There are so many, they cannot be counted and they are often so far from us that we do not dare to reach out for them. But just imagine how dark it would be if one day all the books, those comets in our cerebral universe should go out and cease to give forth that boundless energy of human knowledge and imagination…
You say children cannot understand such science fiction?! Very well then, I shall come back down to earth and allow myself to remember the books of my own childhood. This is anyway what came to my mind when I was gazing at the Plough, the constellation we Slovaks call "the Big Cart", because my most precious books came to me on a cart... That is, not to me first, but to my mother. It was during the war.
She was standing at the roadside one day, when a cart came rattling along - a hay wagon piled high with books and drawn by a team of horses. The driver told my mother that he was taking the books from the town library to a safe place, to prevent them from being destroyed.
At that time my mother was still a little girl eager to read and at the sight of that sea of books her eyes lit up like stars. Until then she had only seen carts full of hay, straw or perhaps manure. For her a cart full of books was like something out of a fairytale. She plucked up the courage to ask:
"Please, couldn't you give me at least one book from that big pile?"
The man smiled, nodded, jumped down from the cart and unfastened one side with the words:
"You can take home as many as are left lying in the road!"
The books tumbled noisily out of the cart onto the dusty road and in a short while that strange wagon had disappeared round a bend. My mother gathered them up, her heart beating loud with excitement. When she had dusted them down, she found that among them, quite by chance, there was a complete edition of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. In the five volumes of various colours there was not a single illustration, but in a miraculous way those books lit up the nights my mother so dreaded. This was because during that war she had lost her own mother. When she read those tales in the evening, each of them gave her a little ray of hope and with a quiet picture in her heart, painted with half-closed eye-lashes, she could calmly fall asleep, at least for a while...
The years passed and these books found their way to me. I always carry them with me along the dusty roads of my life. What dust am I talking about, you ask?
Maybe I was thinking of the star dust which settles on our eyes when we sit reading in a chair on a dark night. If, that is, we are reading a book. After all, we can read all kinds of things. A human face, the lines on a palm, and the stars...
The stars are books in a night sky and they light up the darkness.
Whenever I doubt whether it is worth writing another book, I gaze up at the sky and tell myself that the universe really is boundless and that there must still be room for my little star.
Translated by Heather Trebatická