Our child who made art in heaven
by Kevin Murphy
Another child has written a book about going to heaven and coming back after surviving a near-death experience. This brings to two the number of child authors garnering media attention over their supposed visits to the pearly gates. One more and we might just have a niche on our hands. The latest tale recounts Ari Hallmark’s (7) little trip to heaven after surviving a tornado in Huntsville, Alabama.
Ari’s remarkable story is the subject of her book, titled “To Heaven, After the Storm.” On April 27 of last year, Ari — along with her mom and dad, Shane and Jennifer Hallmark, her grandparents, Phillip and Ann Hallmark and her two cousins, Jayden and Julie — sought shelter in a bathroom to ride out an EF-4 tornado that came through Alabama in the Ruth community of Marshall County.
Her book talks about it all. “When we were in the bathroom,” she said. “And when we were in the hospital. And when we got out of the hospital.”
Now, obviously this is an awful situation that no kid should have to endure. The simple fact that Ari survived is enough to memorialize her as one lucky, badass kid for the rest of her life. And by no means am I suggesting her story is disingenuous — how do I know what she experienced, really?
But I will call bullshit when it comes to the whole book-publishing thing.
First, no child should ever, ever, publish a book. There are already plenty of books in the world, and god knows we’re near the end if we support some new genre wherein children write memoirs and embark on book tours.
Second, kids are liars. Or let’s say “imaginative.” And they’re stubborn. Chances are one will spit in your eye before admitting that actually no, he didn’t really save a baby bird from a green panda’s mouth out behind the tool shed, which was on fire. Add this to the fact that most shameless, enterprising adults are willing to coax fabulist tales from young people’s mouths if there’s a profit to be made.
But the motive behind Ari’s book? Not so cynical. Proceeds go to a ministry for other children dealing with death. At least that’s the plan. Who knows what will happen once those royalty checks start rolling in. I imagine Ari’s psychologist will have something to say. After all, she was the one who put the idea in that little girl’s imaginative, traumatized brain:
“She was like, ‘Hey, let’s make a book. And do it to help other kids’,”Ari said.”
Ari’s story is one thing. Colton Burpo’s is another. You remember Colton, don’t you? He’s the little guy who, after a harrowing appendicitis operation when he was four, went to heaven for a little bit and met John the Baptist.
A book about Colton’s journey —Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Thomas Nelson, $16.99) — is such a phenomenon that its Nashville publisher says it has broken all sales records for the company. For the past three weeks, it has been No. 1 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list. Today it drops to No. 2, behind Water for Elephants.
No arguing those numbers, folks. This kid’s really got a story to tell. Or does he?
Heaven, released in November as a paperback original with a first printing of 40,000 copies, was written by Colton’s father, the Rev. Todd Burpo, who has a small evangelical congregation in Imperial, Neb. It was co-written by Lynn Vincent, who collaborated with Sarah Palin on the best seller Going Rogue.
Has Jon Stewart reported this story on The Daily Show? I can picture him bouncing around in disbelief over the irony of Palin’s ghostwriter working with Colton’s father, a REVERAND, on this amazing work of fiction. I mean true story. Really really really so true story.
Fortunately, reasonable creatures still live in this country, and criticism has not been completely stifled, as evidenced by Susan Jacoby’s sentiments in the Washington Post:
To summarize the young ColtonBurpo’s (he is now 11) “nonfiction” experience, he visited heaven while he was under anesthesia and encountered a great many vivid colors, Jesus displaying the stigmata, various creatures with wings of different sizes, and his unborn baby sister (who looked very much like his born older sister). His parents, appearing on the Today show with their son (who admitted that his memories of heaven weren’t as clear as they used to be) said they were skeptical at first but lost their skepticism as their child described more details of his experience in the months after his operation.
What is truly disturbing about this book’s huge commercial success is that it attests to the prevalence of unreason among vast numbers of Americans. (The book is way down in the ranks on Amazon.com in the United Kingdom.) The Americans buying the book are the same people fighting the teaching of evolution in public schools. They are probably the same people who think they can reduce the government deficit without either paying higher taxes or cutting the military budget, Social Security and Medicare benefits. In this universe of unreason, two plus two can equal anything you want and heaven is not only real but anything you want it to be. At age four, the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is charming. Among American adults, widespread identification with the mind of a preschooler is scary.
Scary indeed …
Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.