Bheki and the Magic Light
Author: Janet Hurst-Nicholson (no website found)
Illustrated by Samantha van Riet
This is a well-written and charming story set in southern Africa that I adored completely. In a manly sort of way, of course….
Bheki is a grandfather now, about to show his family the benefit of finally being hooked-up to the electrical system so they can have an electric light at night instead of candles. It reminds him of something which happened to him when he was a kid. His own father gave him a magic light when he was young. It was a torch (a flashlight to US readers!), and it fascinated him. He had no idea how it magically produced a stunningly bright light which outshone, with a steady light, any candle he had ever used, and which made him a celebrity in his village.
Prior to this magic coming into his hands, he had been largely without respect and all but friendless, feeling left out of everything because he was young and small amongst Zulus who are definitely not height-challenged. He had no possessions to speak of, and no status. Suddenly, he has a light in his life – literally, and he’s thrilled by his status and the interest people show in him because of it.
But the problem with battery-powered torches, just as with wax-powered candles, is that the power source, being non-renewable, weakens and the light fades. Eventually it goes out. It’s the same with false status, isn’t it? Bheki was just as befuddled by this dying of the light (against which he didn’t quite rage, but near enough!) as he was by there being light in the first place. He did the smart thing, though – he took the scientific approach and experimented with the magic light to see if he could persuade the light to come back. Nothing that he tried worked, and once again he was back in the old position of lacking status, his popularity fading along with the light from the torch.
Bheki decides upon a course of action which a young boy has to be brave and resourceful to undertake. He’s going to find out what’s going on with the light, but in the end, he discovers something different, and more important. It’s not something about the light, but about himself, and it lasts longer than any battery.
The beauty of this gentle, but adventurous story lies not only the welcome trip outside the US which it provides, bringing us into acquaintanceship with lives which are very different from our own pampered and privileged existence. The value of the book lies also in the scientific perspective too, whereby it goes into some detail- not too much, though - about electricity, how it works and where it comes from - and how dangerous it can be when mishandled. I found that refreshing and useful for younger children. I thoroughly recommend this story. I must confess a desire for a sequel, too - you know, the one which tells us where the light goes when you switch it off….