Understanding Anxiety in Holly Carr’s LIGHT IN THE FOREST

By Phoebe Jenner

Light in the Forest, artist Holly Carr’s stunning picture book, functions not only as a piece of art but also as a kind of preparation or safety net for what happens once the parent finishes their bedtime story and leaves the room. Purposely lacking a plot, it’s a bedtime story that’s meant for younger children – or maybe artistically inclined older ones – who are the very group that would suffer from the fear that Carr is trying to dispel: fear of the dark.

Light in the Forest’s illustrations are a series of painted silk nature scenes that portray various forest animals as they appear at night and during the day. The illustrations of animals at night are clearly meant to resemble the fears that young children have during the night – that the lump of clothes across from them is a crouched wolf, that the two lights in the distance are the eyes of a wild animal. However, Carr reassuringly follows up the unnerving image with a comforting one. The menacing owl at night is actually a friendly one that tends to its owlets in the daytime; the terrifying bear is really one that sleeps underneath a tree with a feast of berries. Carr teaches her young readers that an overactive imagination can sometimes be your worst enemy, and that the nightmares they dream up in the dark are entirely harmless and sometimes even humorous.

During a time when everyone from children to adults seems to be having strange and disturbing dreams, Carr reminds us of the power of our own fears. Along with its important — and timely — theme, a highlight of Light in the Forest is clearly the beautiful painted silk illustrations. The care and talent that went into creating them are evident, especially as the silk paintings, in non-book form, are actually larger-than-life pieces of art created for an installation at the Acadia University Art Gallery. Combined, these two elements make for a charming and visually stunning children’s book that acknowledges children’s anxieties and encourages them to overcome them.

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