It was more than fifty years ago. The year was 1969. It was a gift to me from my mother's best lifelong friend. It went with me wherever I went for forty-five years until it was destroyed in a flooded basement library. Today a new copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is part of my poetry collection. It was and still is unlike anything I have read.
Kahlil Gibran was forty years old when The Prophet was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1923. In Hope Is an Arrow: The Story of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran (Candlewick Press, July 5, 2022) written by Cory McCarthy with illustrations by Ekua Holmes, readers are transported into other times and places. Through a melodic narrative with stunning complementary artwork, we are introduced to a man's journey through two worlds, the disparities in each of them, and how he sought to affect change through his art and writing.
There once was a boy shot from a bow like an arrow.
Strong and straight, he flew across the world, connecting
many people with the power of his words.
But not right away.
Kahlil loved the country of his birth, Lebanon, but the religious strife between the Maronite and the Druze was heartbreaking to him. He sought solitude in the forest of cedar trees. In that silence, he felt something grow inside him.
At one point in his youth, he fell off a cliff in the woods, breaking his shoulder. Wearing a wooden cross placed on his back by his parents, he quietly healed. Later, Kahlil's family lost everything and his father was placed in prison. His mother, two sisters, older brother, and Kahlil left for America.
In Boston, Kahlil attended a school for immigrants. His name was shortened from Gibran Kahlil Gibran to Kahlil Gibran. His mother worked carrying
linens and lace
on her back, peddling her yard goods. She saved enough money to open a small store. While Kahlil felt honor toward his mother for her work, others belittled her. Here in America, Kahlil saw the strife between the rich and the poor.
Kahlil began to use his ability to draw to fuel his hope for mending differences. His teachers noticed his skills, referring him to a photographer named Fred Holland Day. Day became a mentor, patron, and friend. Kahlil's drawings garnered him recognition through the sale of some as covers for books. His mother was concerned with this early success and sent Kahlil back to Lebanon to study.
Kahlil flourished in his education, but longed for his life to take a different direction. He went back to Boston to write his words of hope, but there he found great sadness in the loss of his older sister, brother, and mother. Moving to New York City, Kahlil Gibran wrote and drew and wrote and drew. He wrote for all people of the world to build bridges, bridges of hope across their differences. His words rang true then, and still ring true today.
Each time this book is read, the words penned by Cory McCarthy vibrate beautifully on your heartstrings. Her references throughout the narrative to arrows and their flight after being released from a bow bind significant portions of this man's life together. She, Cory McCarthy, also weaves the word hope splendidly into the text as Kahlil harbors his desire to spread it to the world. The nine inserted quotations pair eloquently with the portions in which they are located. Here is a passage.
Now when he looked in the mirror, he saw two boys: Kahlil Gibran, the Arab American, and Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese boy who missed his father and the snowy mountains of home.
"Deep is your longing for the land of your memories."
in collage and acrylic on paper,
the illustrations of Ekua Holmes will literally take your breath away. The image on the front, right side, of the matching dust jacket and book case is similar to part of an interior illustration. The perspective and color palette vividly portray the peace Kahlil Gibran felt among the cedar tees.
To the left of the spine, on the back, a delicate floral print in shades of golden yellow and brown with spots of sky blue, cover the entire canvas. Perhaps, this represents the fabric Kahlil's mother might have sold in Boston. The opening and closing endpapers are a golden yellow.
On the title page, along the top and bottom are wide borders taken from the picture on the front of the jacket and case. In the center of the page is a single golden leaf surrounded by four small golden circles. This leaf could be a feather, a feather in an arrow. Or maybe it is hope.
The pictures are either single-page images, or dramatic double-page visuals. The manner in which the text is placed on all of them enhances the pacing. The illustrations are breathtaking individually, but flow to the following pictures perfectly. You find yourself repeatedly stopping first to look at the illustration as a whole, then to notice the layout and design, and finally to appreciate all the elements working together. In a word, they are luminous.
One of my many favorite pictures is a double-page picture. It is for the text:
His family lived in a crowded place called the South
End, where a hundred immigrant children from all over the
world often played in a single alley together like a flock of
The alley is featured prominently in the center portion to the left of the gutter. It is framed on the left side with a collage of buildings in various shades of brown and brick red. Some blue is featured in a window. There is a single tree in the alley. Beneath the branches is the sun. Above the branches in the clear blue sky are eight white birds in flight. Over the alley hangs laundry. To the right of the alley, on both sides of the gutter are the brick walls of other buildings with windows holding blue, gray, and green panes. Most of the right side is a brick wall. In this wall is a window with a lace curtain valance and flowers on the sill. The text is placed in a faded portion of the brick. Beautiful.
I cannot imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of Hope Is an Arrow: The Story Of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran written by Cory McCarthy with artwork by Ekua Holmes. It is a marvelous depiction of a life well-lived. It is an inspiration to all who read it. At the close of the book are three pages of Source Notes And Additional Stories From Kahlil Gibran's Life. Included in this are notes on the quotations. There is also a bibliography.
To discover more about Cory McCarthy and Ekua Holmes and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names. Cory McCarthy has an account on Instagram. Ekua Holmes has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. At the publisher's website, there is a teacher's guide you can download. At Penguin Random House, there are interior images to view.