The cover illustration of children riding stone winged lions through the air caught my attention. It looked interesting – and unusual. And Through the Skylight by Ian Baucom certainly was both interesting and unusual.
Set in modern-day Venice, siblings Jared, Shireen and Miranda are stuck exploring every. single. art. exhibit. in this Italian city. Their father is an American professor, temporarily living in Venice. Their mother is teaching them at home, which includes many field trips to see the city’s history.
The story starts with Jared racing ahead of his family on his skateboard, and taking the wrong boat. They end up in an usual storefront shop, where the owner invites them to pull ‘treasures’ from Marco Polo’s bag. The girls each choose a ring, while Jared pulls out a die. It all is a bit strange – and becomes even stranger when the rings and die start glowing. Then weird things start happening – stone lions come to life; a cat starts talking; and a faun jumps from a painting in the museum.
These events all tie in with a book their father is reading to them – translating it from Latin. They would do it themselves, except their Latin is still rudimentary. Which is too bad, because somehow their names are written in the book – and they want to figure out why.
I really enjoyed Through the Skylight. The explanations as to why the children were able to scamper all over Venice without their parents knowing was somewhat of a stretch, but certainly didn’t detract from the excitement and mystery of the story. I appreciate many things about this story – including the respect given by the author to religious belief and the church (in this case, the Roman Catholic Church). This is the first book I’ve read in a long time in which the children say prayers before bed.
Baucom makes some important points in the book, mostly toward the end, about the importance of belief, and having a belief with a purpose. The shopkeeper has read the entire book, knows how the story ends, and knows his life will be put in danger. Yet he continues to play his part in the story, based upon his belief that the children will fulfill their purpose. The children are incredulous – how could he sacrifice himself like that? Shireen says in the darkest moments of their adventure, she did not believe. But the shopkeeper contradicts her.
“Yes, you did. You did not think it, but you believed it. … Believing is not thinking something is true, Shireen. It is acting for the truth. And before you doubted, you acted. … I know you were afraid. But that is only because first you believed.”
One other point Baucom makes, which I do not believe. One of the main characters is a Muslim boy, Rashid. Another character in the story, Maria, turns to him and says,
“Have faith, Rashid, have faith. God is here too. Your God and mine, by whatever name we call Him.”
The idea that all gods are the same, we just chose different paths to the same god is popular today, as evidenced by this line in Through the Skylight. Because I disagree with this idea, I pointed it out to my children as we read this book. However, I don’t think this line detracts from the storyline, and Baucom’s other comments about belief.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.