This is my first text for a picture book. Its intended audience is 5-8 year-olds. Please feel free to comment constructively!
KING DAVID'S WRONG NOTES
Before King David grew up to rule Israel, his father Jesse called him Davy the Dreamer. Jesse taught his older sons the arts of war, but he sent David into the hills to watch the sheep.
When David turned eight, Jesse gave him a bow-shaped harp.
“But I wanted a bow and arrow, just like you gave my brothers!” David cried.
"You're different from your brothers. You’re too much of a dreamer," Jesse scolded. “You'd only make mistakes if I gave you a weapon.”
David was so angry, he threw down the harp. Luckily, it didn't break. But the strings shook, making a sound like an angel's welcome.
David picked up the bow-shaped harp and cradled it. Then he plucked the strings one by one. Some boomed fat and dark, and others rang strong and sharp-faced. Some pattered like tiny feet, while a few hummed thoughtfully.
David tried to sound out a lullaby his mother had sung to him as a child. He got a lot of notes wrong at first, but after a while the song was right.
What David didn't know was that all of his wrong notes went to Heaven.
The first wrong note felt lonely as it rose. But another wrong note followed, and then another, and another.
Their song was strange, with long notes and short notes, stumpy notes and twangy notes, high notes and low notes and everything in between, in no particular order. They floated through the clouds, past the moon and above outer space. At last they came to the Tree of Life, guarded by the angel Haniel.
The notes looked all around them in wonder.
“Where are we?” they asked the angel. “Why are we here?”
“You are in Heaven because you were created by the greatest king the world has ever known,” Haniel told them. “David, King of Israel, will live forever – and so will all that he does.”
The notes stared at the beautiful angel with wide eyes and open mouths.
“But we’re just a bunch of mistakes!” cried a stumpy one at last. “And David is just a shepherd. For your information, the king of Israel is named Saul!”
The angel smiled at the note in spite of its rude reply. “You come from greatness,” the angel insisted patiently. “There is nothing wrong with you. You’ll see. Meanwhile, you may live here together in the Tree of Life. David has no need of you at the moment. Your brothers and sisters, who all fit into songs that he has learned, will remain on Earth.”
The years passed. David went into the hills overlooking Bethlehem to watch the sheep every day. And every day he practiced on his bow-shaped harp.
He made many mistakes, and was often frustrated.
“Why can’t I ever get it right?” he would complain to the lowing sheep, far from his father and brothers. “I wish I wasn’t such a dreamer. I wish I could make my father Jesse proud.”
As he practiced and practiced, day after day and year after year, David’s many mistakes climbed higher than he ever imagined. Eventually there were enough wrong notes to fill a happy, bustling village in the Tree of Life.
All of the notes were grateful to David for practicing no matter how many mistakes he made. But sometimes, as they sat and chatted together in their cozy homes, they would wonder aloud about David’s future. Would he really become king of Israel, as the angel had foretold?
One day, Haniel flew swiftly into the village square. The angel unfurled a banner that showed what was happening on Earth at that very moment.
The notes saw King Saul admiring a statue of himself. He was surrounded by fierce-looking soldiers who cheered for him.
Haniel’s face was sad.
“King Saul has disobeyed the word of God,” sighed the angel. “He is showing off for his soldiers, instead of doing what he knows is right.”
On the banner, an old man in rough clothes came up to Saul and scolded him. Saul hung his head.
“Who is that old man?” piped a little note. “I can’t hear what he’s saying!”
Haniel smiled. “The old man is the prophet Samuel, and he is telling Saul that God has chosen a better king for Israel.”
The notes all looked at each other in surprise. Could the better king be . . . David?
Weeks later, David was practicing his bow-shaped harp in the hills when his brother Shammah came running to fetch him.
“We have a visitor,” panted Shammah to a startled David. “It’s the prophet Samuel. He’s calling for you come before him, even though Papa didn’t want you to.”
In wonderment, David hurried with his brother to their father’s house. He burst in, his cheeks red and eyes shiny from running.
David’s father scowled. “Why can’t you just come in normally?” Jesse scolded.
But old man Samuel’s face lit up like a mother’s when she sees her baby.
“You!” Samuel cried, pointing with a shaking finger. “You have been chosen by God to lead Israel!”
David’s brothers all stared openmouthed at the famous prophet.
Jesse just looked furious.
“But- but I’m the youngest!” stammered David. “I’m just a dreamer! How can I lead our people?”
“You come from greatness,” Samuel insisted, smiling patiently at the young man. “There is nothing wrong with dreaming. You’ll see. Meanwhile, come closer to me.”
At that moment in Heaven, Haniel once again unfurled the magic banner in the village square. All the notes watched as the prophet Samuel poured oil from a small flask onto David's head.
"Samuel has anointed David as the next King of Israel," Haniel announced. "But he must keep it a secret while King Saul still lives. Someday, a long time from now, one of David's children’s children will bring peace on Earth."
“So it’s true!” the stumpy note shouted. “David will be King of Israel!”
The notes cheered, singing and dancing for joy.
Many months later, Haniel came to the village square once more. The banner showed David packing his bow-shaped harp to travel to Jerusalem. He was frowning, his handsome brow wrinkled with worry.
"King Saul has sent a messenger to ask David to play for him,” the angel told the notes. “The king is troubled by an evil spirit, and hopes David’s music can soothe his soul.”
“That’s wonderful!” a strong note rang out. “So why does David look so unhappy?”
Haniel sighed. “David is afraid he is not good enough to perform for the king," the angel told the notes. “His father always told him he was just a dreamer, so he thinks everything he does is somehow wrong.”
The notes hung their heads at Haniel’s words. They knew the angel was right, and they felt helpless.
“But doesn’t David remember how much he has practiced?” asked a sharp-faced note. “He has played that harp every day for years.”
“Just look at all the mistakes he has made,” sang a rich note, sweeping her arm over the crowd. “And he hardly makes any mistakes anymore. He has become a beautiful musician. He can’t lose faith in himself now!”
“If David does not believe in himself,” boomed a powerful note, “how will he ever be a good king?”
“And if he is not a good king,” wailed a chubby note, “how will one of his children’s children bring peace on Earth?”
“This is his chance,” whispered a thin, frail note. “We have to help him.”
Everyone nodded in silence. But what could they do?
“How about . . . “ suggested a fat, motherly note, “we all work together?”
“That’s it!” chirped the lightest note. “We’re all very different, and that’s why we thought we were mistakes. But if we work together, keep at it and don’t give up, we can make a song that David can play for the king!”
A huge grin spread from one note to the next. Shouts and ideas rang out, until the hubbub in the Tree of Life sounded like the calls of ten thousand birds.
Unnoticed, smiling gently, Haniel flew away with the magical banner.
Soon all the wrong notes, long and short, twangy and stumpy, high and low and everything in between, were lining up. For five days, while David walked anxiously to Jerusalem with his harp on his shoulder, they tried and they tried to make themselves into a sweet and joyous song.
There were many arguments as they worked, but also much laughter. Everyone got into the act.
“There will be nobody left in our village at this rate!” yelped the fat note.
“Who cares?” roared the sharp-faced note happily. “We’re doing our part to bring peace on Earth!”
On the morning of the sixth day, as David fearfully approached the gates of Jerusalem, the notes knew they were finished. If David would only play them for the King, they would be wrong notes no longer. They would become the right notes in a brand new song, and would remain on Earth like all the other notes to the songs David had learned over the years.
The notes said goodbye to their beloved village, and to their welcoming angel.
Haniel blessed them. "Aim for David's heart!" the angel called as they began their long journey back down to Earth. “Then he will have the courage he needs to soothe King Saul’s troubled spirit!”
When David arrived at Saul’s palace, he was shaking with nervousness. I am such a dreamer, he thought to himself. What if I make a mistake before the king?
The trembling viceroy led him into the royal chamber. King Saul lay listless on a golden couch. Sadness and pain filled his eyes.
David cradled his harp as he had so many times before. But nothing he could play seemed good enough for this moment.
Then a melody stirred in his heart. It felt as if it had been made for the king. He began to play, taking pleasure in the sweet sound of his new song, a joyous dance to praise the Lord.
At last, the king sat up. David fell silent. Everyone held their breath.
Saul took a plump, purple grape from a bowl of fruit beside him. He put it into his mouth and smiled.
Everyone smiled with him.
“I would like to sleep now,” said the king. “I will send for the boy again tomorrow.”
The viceroy led David out with a cheerful step.
“That song . . .” began the viceroy, shaking his head in wonder as they walked towards the palace guest room. “It was so beautiful. Where did it come from?"
David hesitated, too embarrassed to say that he had made it up on the spot. And anyway, it felt familiar, as if he had heard all the notes somewhere before . . .
Then David realized that the song had come from God.
"I wrote it myself," he replied happily.
The viceroy stared admiringly at him. David felt proud of all the hard work he had done to become a fine musician. For the first time in his life, he was glad his father Jesse had given him a bow-shaped harp instead of a bow and arrow.
He was different, but that didn’t mean there was something wrong with him. Yes, he was a dreamer. But the world needs dreamers as well as warriors, singers as well as kings, and young children as well as old prophets. The world needs everyone in it to make a life of harmony. And everyone comes from greatness.
Suddenly, all the wrong notes found themselves back in their village.
"What happened?" they cried.
The angel Haniel beamed at them. "Thanks to you, David has learned an important lesson that will help him become a great king,” the angel explained. “His contentment has brought you home. Now you can travel back and forth between your village and Earth as you wish."
The musical notes danced and sang for joy as David slept. And when he awoke the next morning and Saul sent for him, his head was full of songs to cheer the King of Israel.
Although KING DAVID’S WRONG NOTES in general is not based on a Midrash, or commentary on the Hebrew Bible, one element of it is. Haniel’s magic banner depicting what is happening on Earth is a riff on a rabbinic story concerning Adam and King David, a tale that also inspired some of the themes in this book.
According to the Midrash, God shows Adam upon an unfurled banner the souls of all his descendants, including that of David. David was originally given only three hours of life by God; Adam, saddened by the thought that one of his sons will never reach his full potential, freely gives 70 of his 1,000 apportioned years to David. God accepts Adam’s generous offer, and although He must remind Adam of it when he reaches the age of 930, Adam agrees to keep his promise and die younger than he otherwise would have for David’s sake.
It is both Adam’s sacrifice and God’s apparent lack of parental support for David that engendered the most important underlying ideas in the present work. The notes are willing to give up their comfortable existence in the Tree of Life to help David reach his full potential, just as Adam donates a significant portion of his life so that David may become king. And Jesse’s overall disapproval of his youngest son mirrors what I see in God’s initial decision to limit David’s life so stringently - although I admire how the character of God is willing to both change His plans to accommodate His child’s (Adam’s) wishes and still insist, when he reminds Adam of his earlier promise, that youthful idealism be maintained into adulthood. I also love how human agency so effectively changes the course of history in this Midrash, just as it does so often in the Bible.