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Although we have a great affection for the old Christmas hymn, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, it’s important to remember that it’s not an entirely accurate assessment of how things were. That is to say, a messiah may have been long expected, but the appearance of that leader as a helpless infant—not a full-grown king or victorious military hero—was decidedly unexpected.
It’s characteristic of so many wisdom tales—whether from sacred or secular sources—that a child will lead the way. In The Empty Pot, when a Chinese emperor must choose his successor, he devises a test for all the children of his land. Each is given a seed and the time to make it flourish. “Whoever can show me his best in a year’s time,” the emperor promises, will win the throne.
A boy named Ping has been a world-beater in the garden, but no matter what he does, he cannot make this seed grow. His dedication and faithful care yield nothing. At the year’s end, all the other children are carrying pots to the palace that contain blooms as big as balloons. Ping carries his empty pot. In Demi’s illustration, he stands alone, eyes downcast, in a circle of pale color—it’s as desolate as if he’s been shot to the moon.
The Emperor reveals that all the seeds he gave out had been cooked. Only one child has been honest enough to present his true harvest. Ping will inherit the throne, and all this book’s readers inherit the lesson that integrity is its own reward.
There’s no corner of the earth that doesn’t need good leaders, and Worth the Candle thanks you for nurturing the children you know with transcendent books. Our best to you all in 2009.