PORT TOWNSEND — The world had gotten dark for this girl. She’d go out walking, stop by a fish pond and feed the fish every day. She waited for the world to lighten, but it just wouldn’t.
So one day, “she made an enormous wish. She wished the lonely dark away.”
Thus begins a new story by Faith Pray, an artist and author who made her own wish seven years ago.
“The Starkeeper,” Pray’s debut children’s book, has been published by Random House to glowing reviews and applause from her own four kids, who include twin teenagers, a young son and a daughter who sparked the whole idea.
This daughter was just 3 when she asked mom to go to the North Pole and bring home a bear, “and I loved that,” Pray recalled.
She’d been writing and drawing since she was a girl herself, and along with work at Grant Street Elementary School, she had developed a following on social media and on her blog, “Sacred Dirt.”
In 2013, Pray suffered a stroke. Months of illness followed; then recovery and a renewed passion for art.
Pray took courses in illustration online through the University of California at San Diego and began working with a literary agent.
Her daughter’s polar bear wish inspired her first book, but “The Starkeeper” evolved along with its author: the bear morphed into other animals, and a lighthouse was involved.
Yet Pray knew she had to go deeper, to the essence of the story she needed to tell.
That’s when “The Starkeeper” was born: a short, eventful saga of a girl who finds a fallen star and — at first — hides it away.
As the author and illustrator, Pray worked through 11 drafts before her book was released.
It came out in the midst of a global pandemic, so the planned promotion at the American Library Association conference in Chicago and her appearance at the Seattle Children’s Book Festival didn’t happen.
“I was feeling a little discouraged. Then I realized: The point is I get to have a book,” she said.
It’s 36 pages with her words and illustrations, all showing the girl who discovers the power of sharing her gift with others.
When the box of books from Random House arrived at her door in Port Townsend, Pray called out for her kids. They opened it up together, tossed confetti and marveled at the wonder of it all.
And mom hosted a live-streamed party for 99 people, ranging from kids she worked with as a reading paraeducator to her editor in New York.
“It was on Zoom, and when the boxes opened up, I could see all these people I loved and cared about,” she said.
Each guest sported a star-studded crown made especially for the occasion.
The internationally known Port Townsend artist Richard Jesse Watson was among the first to see a copy of “The Starkeeper.”
“I had read Faith’s manuscript and seen sketches along the way,” he said in an email interview, “but when I saw the finished bound book, I couldn’t actually speak. I was so choked up … Even though she began writing and illustrating it a few years ago, it shows hope in a time of darkness and despair.
“We sure need that now.”
Watson knows Pray’s process and how she developed as an artist, well. He’s her father.
“We read together as a family every night before bedtime,” he said.
His other children are Jesse Joshua Watson and Benjamin James Watson, artists and authors like their sister.
As a new author, kind of like a new mom, Pray continues to find moments of surprise and joy. She’s creating the art now for her next picture book,“Perfectly Imperfect Mira,” to be published by Little, Brown & Co., and she has been chosen to illustrate “One Day,” Joanna Ho’s book for mothers and sons.
Meanwhile, “The Starkeeper” has landed on the Indie Next List, a roster of recommendations for independent bookstores. It’s still receiving praise from critics: This story “lets readers know of their inherent power to bring about positive change, no matter their size,” wrote one at Kirkus Reviews.
Pray’s girl doesn’t keep the star all to herself, you see. Wandering town, her star dimming in her hands, she sees a cave.
It’s “the perfect spot for giving up,” and when she goes inside, she finds two other kids, shivering.
The girl has an idea; She shares her sweater and a piece of the star with them, and “now the star seemed rounder. Shinier. Glowy.”
Girl and light keep walking. And sharing.
One person after another, the world lightens.
To Pray, this is no fantastical story. She sees it unfolding in real life, in people doing their work in town, at home with their loved ones.
“People have gifts they’re using every day,” she said.
“We’re each doing the best we can.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.