Saturday, January 25, 2014

An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant (Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto)

Published 1992

Cynthia Rylant’s book An Angel for Solomon Singer is a sentimental story about a man named Solomon who is unhappy in his present living condition. He lives in a hotel for men near the corner of Columbus Avenue and Eighty-Fifth Street in New York City.  He laments that his room has none of the things he loves, a balcony, a fireplace, a porch swing for napping, a window where he can watch birds, a cat or a dog, or yellow walls. Solomon Singer becomes a wanderer because he doesn’t like his current living situation.

One day he wanders into the Westway Café where he meets a friendly waiter named Angel who welcomes him with open arms and becomes his friend.  After nightly visits to the café, Solomon is reminded of his home in Indiana where he grew up as a boy and begins to feel like he has found a home once again. In the end, Solomon’s life doesn’t change much and, I suppose, is reflective of many people living in his situation. Solomon, at one point in the story, even sneaks a cat into his room which is against the rules. What kind of message does this send to children? Will this really make him happy?

However, even though the story is realistic and is beautifully illustrated, I found it rather depressing.  I was hoping for a more encouraging ending, especially since the waiter’s name was Angel. I was hoping for a miracle. I guess, in a way, one did happen in that Solomon found a place where he felt he belonged, but I was hoping Angel would inspire Solomon Singer to do something to change his life circumstances.

I would like to see stories written that encourage children to change their circumstances by getting an education and by working hard, by taking action. Becoming a wanderer and lamenting about current circumstances will not result in positive life change. Breaking rules only leads to anxiety. In real life, Solomon would find himself living in constant fear that someone would discover he has brought a cat into the hotel, and he could lose his room altogether. What good would that do him?

Determination, perseverance, and personal responsibility are what change life circumstances, and individuals can change their lives if believe in themselves and their abilities. Remember "Yes We Can!" How this acclamation rings hollow now. Oh, I forgot; the government is the answer to all our problems. What would have happened to me and my children if I had chosen to wander around lamenting about my present circumstances when my husband was diagnosed with cancer? This thought terrifies me!

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