Review: Deborah's Tree

Deborah's Tree

by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Cosei Kawa

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

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This poetic recounting of the story of the Biblical Deborah’s life is stunningly beautiful, in both text and illustrations. The dreamy, lush illustrations by Cosei Kawa have a “Chagall in the Middle East” feel to them, with their motifs of pomegranate, figs, the scales of justice, circles, and spirals, and, of course, trees and leaves, among others, along with a touch of surrealism. As Deborah grows into womanhood and becomes a judge and then a general, she learns why she has been blessed with the gift of foresight and what her purpose is. Because of the poetic nature of the language, this book may be best suited to readers who are familiar with the story of Deborah. It would be perfect for teachers to use with middle-grade or even middle school students in Jewish day schools or Hebrew schools to explore Deborah’s life, her role, and their own gifts and purposes. The book also raises issues about whether war is ever just and whose side G-d is on. After all, as Barak tells Deborah, “[a]ll men pray before battle. Even the enemy.”

This deeply Jewish book can be used as a jumping-off point to discuss issues of Jewish law, morality, history, feminism, and more. It meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 17 and 14, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She is continually inspired by the city even though apartment living means she is running out of room for her picture book collection. When she is not reading or writing, she loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.