Life & Culture

Yuval Zommer’s magical world comes to the manor

Waddesdon’s new installation is based on a picture book by the Israel-born artist


“I wanted to do something festive and joyous,” says author and illustrator Yuval Zommer of the concept behind his children’s book The Lights that Dance in the Night. “But it was also that notion of coming out of the darkness into the light.”

The Israel-born author’s book was written during Covid, but, he says, “unfortunately, the theme of light and coming out of the darkness is as relevant today”.

His uplifting book is now the theme of a stunning new art and light installation at Waddesdon Manor, a schools project and collaboration with Oxford University Press. Last year, Waddesdon used Zommer’s The Tree That’s Meant To Be as inspiration for its light trail. Make your way through the Coach House at the Stables, and you’ll see artwork created by thousands of local school children, and sculptural lanterns of wolves, puffins and a musk ox, made with artist Michelle Dufaur — all inspired by the book.

Dufaur visited five local secondary schools in July and worked with the students to bring the book’s animal characters to life. Since Zommer’s book tells the story of the Northern Lights as they travel across the Arctic and unite every creature across land and sea in celebration, visitors will see the Aurora Borealis glittering overhead.

“I’m overwhelmed by what was created, it’s magical,” says Zommer, who has lived in London since he was a baby, studied illustration at the Royal College of Art, and whose books have been translated into 31 languages. “The spirit of the book is there. There are many stars hanging so it’s a very magical thing to walk through. It is like a journey, like the book. There is so much beauty in what the children have created.”

Picasso famously said that “every child is an artist”, a belief with which Zommer wholeheartedly agrees. “Children express themselves freely and they don’t need to follow rules and perspective and all this stuff that you are told when you study art. That creativity is one of the best parts of childhood — children know what they want to say, and they will pick up a crayon or collage or whatever it is. It’s very pure.”

He regularly gives talks and workshops at schools and paints window displays at children’s bookshops.

Some children were also asked what brings them joy, and their many offerings are on display.
That Zommer is so enamoured by the new installation is also because he loves this time of year, when “homes are filled with celebration of light”, whether it’s for Chanukah, Christmas or Diwali, and cultures are united in their festivities.

“During these wintry, darkening days we fill our homes with joy and light, bringing people together. This is something very special about this time of year.”

It ties into The Lights that Dance in the Night, which is about the miracle of nature during the darkest, or shortest, of days. “There’s something universal where we seek the light, and I thought the magic of it and the joy that the lights bring, lend themselves to storytelling and I wanted to show it from nature’s point of view.”

An environmentalist, Zommer infuses all his books with nature. Take his latest beautifully illustrated creation, The Wild, which is about the importance of preserving the natural world.

Zommer credits his parents with imbuing in him a lifelong love of travel and observation, thanks to frequent childhood trips and visits to museums, when they’d pop a notebook in his hands and encourage him to keep a journal of what he saw.

“I grew up in a time when the world was safer. My parents would take us anywhere and go on long trips,” he says. “It’s very important to allow ourselves that celebration of nature, because there’s so much beauty out there. Children can see it. They look at the world with awe and wonder and have a natural curiosity where they see little miracles in nature. My books connect with children on that level of curiosity, discovering how amazing the world can be. And I wanted us to enjoy that wonder that comes with the seasons, and see the joy that is out there.”

All his books have a happy ending.
“My books are optimistic,” he says.
“I like to give a positive message.” It’s why you’ll find messages of hope on his Instagram and X/Twitter accounts alongside his vibrant artworks. “There’s so much darkness in the world. My aim is to bring positivity, joy and light,” he adds.

“Increasingly we need more positivity, especially young children who might be overwhelmed.”

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