Every now and then I spend an afternoon in the bookstore, savoring pages and dreaming adventurous stories about far-away characters. Recently I came across an unusual book by the French writer Daniel Pennac, called here in Italy Il giro del cielo (in English, it would translate into something like A stroll across the sky).
Pennac dedicates this children’s book to his daughter, “born sixteen years, eleven months, and nineteen days ago in a sky by Mirò”. And it is the extraordinary Spanish painter who provides the background for this book, in which, as the subtitle puts it, “twelve paintings tell a story.”
The plot goes like this: a father and a daughter play of inventing a story as they observe twelve paintings by Mirò, which illustrate a girl’s fantastical journey beyond the sky. The story is started by the daughter, “Daddy, do you know what lies beyond the sky?”, and is continued by the father. “No, you tell me. Tell me quickly, honey, what lies beyond the sky. There are many of us making that question”. It is an intense and tender dialogue, filled with secrets, which addresses the theme of childhood through an imaginary family album: a rich game of poetry and creativity to be read and to make us love art, and to make us love art and enjoy our family. Pennac illustrated by Mirò, Mirò told by Pennac.
This is actually a great question: what lies beyond the sky? It is a profound question, woven into humanity’s soul: we need to ask it, to know it, to discover it. Pennac starts this journey from two intuitions: childhood and art, two worlds that recalls us to the beginning of everything, to the essence of life, to creativity, to dream. Camille’s heaven is made of the sun, of talking animals, of absolute freedom, of people who fly, of everything she calls a “madness of joy.”
This image draws me to two thousand years ago, when a man called Jesus took a child in his arms. This act revolutionized people’s thinking at that time, since children were nothing of great importance then, for Jesus said: “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
This is fascinating: heaven can only be explored by a child’s eyes. Jesus’ words recalls us to the simplicity and the profoundness of a period of life which we often forget that it was once ours: childhood, in all its fullness, in all its intuition of truth.
What will we say to our children when they ask us, “What lies beyond the sky?” It is a significant responsibility. We should not fear the big questions. Maybe we should learn just to “stroll across the sky” with them.