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Illustration by Emma Overman

Casting light on a dark day:
Author hopes her fable will reassure children

Saturday, March 02, 2002

Star-Ledger Staff

After Sept. 11, some turned to prayer, some to activism.

Lisa Suhay, a freelance writer, turned to her three little boys -- Zoltan, 8; Ian, 6, and Avery, 3 -- and felt she owed them an explanation.

So she wrote a story.

"There were people who gave blood and money. What I had to give was words," she says.

Suhay, of Medford in Burlington County , has written other children's books, but her latest tale, "The Mouse and the Light," was especially difficult.

"Pretty much all the fables I've written in my books came from trying to explain problems to my kids, and this was the ultimate task. How do you break down terrorism into something that's not so scary and so real they feel helpless?" she says.

In the days after the terrorist attacks, Suhay --who works at home as a freelance writer and children's book author -- knew she had to find some way of explaining what happened to her sons, but couldn't find the right child-sized metaphor for what had happened.

"And then I was in the car listening to Colin Powell give a press conference on the radio, and he called Bin Laden a 'shadowy figure.' And I thought: That's it, these are shadow people," says Suhay.

Suhay pulled over to the side of the road and wrote out the rough draft of her fable on the back of a shopping list. Then she went home, typed it up, and read it to her boys.

"I held my breath to see if they would get it, and even the 6-year-old got it," she said.

In "The Mouse and the Light," no direct reference is made to Bin Laden and the terrorist attacks.

Instead, the story tells of a shade of a branch of the Tree of Wisdom. The shade becomes arrogant and detaches itself from the tree to become "the first shadow." It spreads darkness and fear around the land, until a defiant mouse asks the Tree of Wisdom how to stop its advance.

The tree answers: "To be rid of darkness -- shine a powerful light of truth. To be rid of cold -- bring only warmth wherever you go."

Suhay's other works, "Dream Catchers" (Marsh Media) and "Tell Me a Story" (Paraclete Press), have also been children's stories that strove to teach as well as to entertain. She wrote them, she says, as bedtime stories for her boys.

"They're my lab mice. If they're not asking to go play with the Game Boy, then it works," she says.

Illustrator Emma Overman created drawings to go with "The Mouse and the Light," but it has not been published in book form -- yet.

First, Suhay posted the story online on her own Web site (, and researched other ways to get the story to children, particularly in the Middle East. So far, it's been published or read in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in Saudi Arabia, on the Arab Radio & TV Network (in English and Arabic), and the Voice of America Radio in Afghanistan, and posted online on and the Radio Afghanistan Web site. A relief agency working in Afghanistan translated the story for children there.

"Bin a storyteller. He has made up his own yarn about America, about why to hate people. I figured I'd give them something else to listen to," Suhay says.

In addition, Suhay is working with the Franklin-Mason Press of Trenton to publish "The Mouse and the Light" in book form as a fund-raiser for the Comfort Zone, a camp for bereaved children that has run several special sessions for youngsters who lost family members on Sept. 11. Suhay is hoping to find a sponsor to cover the costs of printing the book, so it can be sold solely as a fund-raising vehicle.

Her husband, Robert Suhay, a layout designer for the Bucks County Courier Times in Pennsylvania, plans to lay out the book.

"The Mouse and The Light" has even turned into a performance piece. Suhay will read the story April 21 at Drew University in Madison, as the New Jersey Youth Orchestra performs an original score written for the tale by composer Eric Chappelle of Seattle. A Chatham-based children's dance group, Dance Innovations, and the Somerset Hills Children's Choir will also perform.

The proceeds from the performance, as well as from the book, will go to the Comfort Zone.

"I don't want to make money, I just want to make peace," Suhay says. "And I feel you really can fight terrorism in between changing diapers and packing lunches."

"From the Hearts of Our Children: healing through music, story and dance"

What: A reading of Lisa Suhay's story "The Mouse and The Light" set to an original score by Eric Chappelle. The New Jersey Youth Orchestra, Somerset Hills Children's Choir and Dance Innovations will also perform. The show is a benefit for Comfort Zone programs for children who lost loved ones on 9/11.

When and where: 3 p.m. on April 21, at the Baldwin Gym, in the Simon Forum building on the campus of Drew University in Madison.

How much: $25 for floor seats, $15 for bleacher seats, $10 for children and students. "Angel" sponsorship for $100 gets two tickets and a mention in the program. Call (908) 771-5544, or (973) 635-7000.

 The light of this fable has been spread to:

The Newark Star-Ledger, NJ, Cape Cod Parent & Child Magazine, Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Arab Radio & TV Network, Voice of America Radio in Afghanistan, The SandPaper, Long Beach Island, NJ, Atlantic City Press, NJ

Online:, Radio Afghanistan, The Omega Institute,,, International Center for Character Education, Sermon Illustrator, Monmouth University's Storytelling Project, National Storytelling Network,, Boston, Mass.,