Review: Miriam at the River

Miriam at the River by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Khoa Le

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

This is a beautifully told, exquisitely illustrated midrash about Miriam putting her brother, Moses, into the Nile River to save him from Pharaoh’s death decree. Jane Yolen is a master storyteller, and she once again proves this with simple words, written in free verse as lilting and calming as the river’s water. The reader learns about Miriam and her prophecies regarding Moses. She has seen the Pharaoh’s daughter pick her brother from the water. She has seen the Red Sea part, and while she is not sure what all her visions mean, she knows that her brother will live to become a great man.

The illustrations are breathtaking. Using digital methods supplemented by traditional overlays of watercolor and natural textures, and blues, browns and splashes of red - the colors of the river, the strength of Miriam, the calmness of Moses, and the beauty of Pharaoh’s daughter unfold.

Of particular interest (to this reviewer) is the use of hippopotami in the story. Once indigenous to Egypt and flourishing along the Nile, they were decimated in modern times to stop them destroying cropland. Today, small groups can be found in South Sudan. Their presence in this story offers an opportunity to talk about human encroachment on animal habitats. This beautiful addition to the Passover collection can be used very easily during the Maggid section of a Passover Seder with children – young and old.

This is perfect Midrash, well researched and beautifully laid out in story and picture. The free verse is brilliant. The back page describing where the story comes from clearly reflects the author’s research into the midrashic process, The book is published by Kar-Ben Publishing and widely available. This is a worthy contender for the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for Picture Books.

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Reviewer Kathy Bloomfield is the Vice President/President Elect of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She is working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to upgrade her long dormant website, She lives in Seal Beach, CA.