When Van started his search for quotations for a child’s first starry night print, I couldn’t offer much. Feeling inadequate, I went into my “research” mode, checking out children’s books at the library and combing through my own shockingly small selection. In hindsight, my childhood reading seems to have featured animals in anthropomorphic settings: a female badger with a predilections for rhymes, elegantly appareled elephants in Parisian-like settings, and the citizens of Richard Scarry’s Busytown.
Then I turned to a book I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of as written for children – The Little Prince. For me it was a book discovered and loved in my early teens and then, as all things loved with the exuberance of youth, put away. I bet I hadn’t opened its pages for 20 years or more.
So many treasures lie within this slender book, ones I gave little attention to in my earlier readings. As a young teen, I don’t think I properly understood the little prince’s relationship to his flower. Just like the little prince feels at first, I found the rose’s vanity tiresome. As the little prince himself explains,
The fact is that I did not know how to understand anything! I ought to have judged by deeds and not by words . . . I ought to have guessed all the affection that lay behind her poor little stratagems. Flowers are so inconsistent! But I was too young to know how to love her . . .
Irritated, the little prince leaves his planet. When he encounters the book's narrator – a pilot stranded in the desert – he asks him to draw him a sheep. When the little prince worries whether the sheep will eat the rose, the pilot's indifference infuriates the little prince:
"If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself: 'Somewhere, my flower is there . . . ' But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened . . . And you think that is not important."
Soon, with the time for his departure from Earth nearing, the little prince prepares the pilot. He begins with the observation:
“If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers . . . “
"Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens . . . They will all be your friends.”
And then he offers a his present to the pilot:
“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You – only you – will have stars that can laugh!”
And he laughed again.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And you friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you . . . “
The book ends six years later with the pilot's sorrow "comforted a little. That is to say – not entirely." He admits to loving to listen to the stars – "It is like five hundred million little bells . . ." Redrawing the landscape where the little prince appeared and disappeared, he asks the readers to let him know "if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions." We are left to commit to memory two simple, curving lines with a single star overhead.
Through its scant plot about a strange little prince and his devotion to a rose, St. Exupéry's story holds the wonder of love with the same care small hands use to cradle a summer night's firefly and places its precious luminosity in the stars, crowning the night sky with magic.