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Through the Skylight

Review

Through the Skylight

Written by Ian Baucom and illustrated by Justin Gerard

Siblings Jared, Shireen and Miranda are living in Venice, Italy with their parents while their father, a historian, spends a semester as a visiting professor at a university. Two months into what he thought would be a great adventure, Jared, the oldest of the children, is already bored. He doesn’t have a cell phone or a laptop and his mother drags him to museum after museum and church after church. To add insult to injury, he has to share a room with his two little sisters. But, when the three are giving amazing treasures, two rings and a mysterious die, they are drawn into a thrilling and magical battle of good against evil that somehow spans centuries. Such is the premise of Ian Baucom’s debut work of children’s fiction, THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT.

"There is much to appreciate in THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT. The setting is interesting and unique, and the fantasy elements are compelling."

Ducking into a shop to get out of the rain, the children are welcomed by a kind, old man (and his black cat) and invited to browse through the inventory of beads, masks, books and maps.  Drawn to a life-sized statue of Marco Polo, Jared notices a leather pouch in the statue’s hand. Jared thinks he sees a light coming from within the jumble of trinkets in the pouch, and before he knows it, the storekeeper invites him and his sisters to take one trinket each. Both Shireen and Miranda extract a ring and Jared pulls out a die. But that is not all they leave the store with; the storekeeper presses an old book, written in Latin, into their hands. The three objects, along with the book, reawaken an old story that illuminates the best and the worst qualities of Venice.

The book that Jared, Shireen and Miranda’s dad start to read to them tells about a copy of ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS making its way across the Middle East to Europe and ending up in the hands of a boy named Rashid. Realizing that the book itself is more than it seems, the three are anxious for the story to unfold. But, in the meantime, magical things begin to happen all around them: a drunken faun from an old painting comes to life, a stone lion does as well, relics from saints go missing and the black cat from the shop arrives to tell the children they must help him save his master with the help of the host of magical creatures who are sworn to assist them. It turns out that the relics are being stolen by three children who lived in Venice during the Renaissance, but their intentions are good. They are working to right old wrongs that they themselves were unwittingly mixed up in when they possessed the rings, the die and the book.

Together the six children (along with the cat, the stone lion, the faun and a dragon) must defeat an evil monk who convinced Venice to launch a children’s crusade to Jerusalem only to kidnap and enslave most of the crusading children. They will have to see past differences of all kinds to succeed and ensure safety for themselves and the other children still trapped on Fra Bartolomeo’s island and rescue the black cat’s master as well.

There is much to appreciate in THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT. The setting is interesting and unique, and the fantasy elements are compelling. The book as a time loop is a good device and the resolution, with the children re-writing the story with their parents is charming (especially when you realize the seeds of this story were planted when Baucom was telling bedtime stories to his own children while living in Venice.) But, the writing and plotting sometimes feels a little sloppy or underworked, and the religious themes of Renaissance tension between Jews, Christians and Muslims, not to mention the importance of relics to the Roman Catholic church, may be lost on some young readers. Imaginative as it often is, THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT doesn’t always live up to its potential. However, Ian Baucom, who has published scholarly works of non-fiction, may find his groove if he continues to write for children.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 21, 2013

Through the Skylight
Written by Ian Baucom and illustrated by Justin Gerard