Review: A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby

A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby: Bible Stories for Children

by Meir Shalev, translated by Ilana Kershan, illustrated by Emanuele Luzzati

Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing)

Category: Picture Book
Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss
This book offers an engaging telling of six biblical stories (five from Genesis and one from Exodus) as interpreted by the iconic Israeli author Meir Shalev. The English translation by Ilana Kershan, a writer steeped in Jewish heritage, is both natural and nuanced. The luminous illustrations by the Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati will ignite the imagination of readers of all ages. 
The narratives in this sophisticated picture book are well-suited to middle-grade readers, with exchanges between the biblical heroes made relatable for young readers: in the chapter about Adam and Eve, “The two of them looked at each other, blushed, and then burst out laughing.” There are also imaginative flourishes, such as the description of the appearance of the Tower of Babel in the aftermath of its destruction: “The tower remained there alone and abandoned. At first the angels would play hide-and-seek in it, and birds built their nests inside....”
The story-telling goes beyond the plot of the passages, with the morals presented in ways that are reassuring and not pedantic. It is also clear that we are reading only a passage of a longer story in the drama of the Jewish people, with the future foreshadowed: “ After many years, Joseph and his brothers met again. And what is most important and interesting of all is that Joseph also met his father again... But that is another story, for another time.”  

This book is elegantly aligned with the values of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. Each of the six chapters (The Tree of Knowledge, Noah’s Ark, The Tower of Babel, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and His Brothers, and Moses in the River) gently immerses the reader in beloved and foundational stories of Jewish heritage. Individually and collectively, the stories encourage the shaping of Jewish identity and “only connect” the prose and the passion (to borrow the words of E.M. Foster) This book is a worthy and mirthful introduction to biblical stories, and will retain the interest of those already familiar with the plot—including parents and teachers, who may choose to read it out loud to younger children. The book can easily glide through the libraries of varied denominations. The original Hebrew version was published in 1994, but the writing remains vivid. Best of all, this book may encourage English readers of all backgrounds to explore the original biblical texts.
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Reviewer Eva Weiss is a writer, editor, and translator. She was born in New York City and worked in the publishing industry there before making her home in Israel many years ago. She is the author of the children's book I am Israeli (Mitchell-Lane, 2016).