The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
Big Picture Image
David Parkins, 1998.
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

God's Story ad. by Jan Mark; illus. by David Parkins. Candlewick, 1998. 178p
ISBN 0-7636-0367-7  $17.99   Gr. 6-9

Be Not Far From Me: The Oldest Love Story ad. by Eric Kimmel; illus. by David Diaz. Simon, 1998. 256p
ISBN 0-689-81088-1  $25.00   Gr. 6-9

Clouds of Glory: Legends and Stories of Bible Times ad. by Miriam Chaikin; illus. by David Frampton. Clarion, 1998. 118p
ISBN 0-395-74654-X  $19.00   Gr. 6-9

Bible stories are not unusual fare for children's books, and devotional literature for youth has long been a staple in library collections. This spring, however, there appears to be an unusual number of Bible-based titles, and not just the usual picture- book retellings or Biblical compendiums. This publishing season we have three books based on the Old Testament and the Midrash, the explanation and commentary of Jewish rabbis and scholars.

Our cover of David and his sheep is from Jan Mark's God's Story. Mark follows her Bible-based picture book The Tale of Tobias (BCCB 12/96) with the more ambitious undertaking of distilling the story of God's creation of mankind and the evolution of Judaism into twelve eminently readable chapters. From the first seven days of creation to Solomon and the promise of the Messiah, Mark retells the stories of the people of Israel with wit, humor, and compassion. Her text is poetic and spare, as is the overall design of the book. Mark's is an accessible God, frequently addressed by His creations ("Moses said, 'Lord, when the people do right, they are your people, and when they do wrong, they are my people. Right or wrong, Lord, they are yours'") and sometimes learning as much from them as they learn from him, as when God speaks to Samuel about choosing a new king from among the sons of Jesse: "'They are all fine young men, but wait until I tell you who to choose.' For God now knew, and Samuel knew, that looks are not everything." David Parkins' ink and gouache illustrations (some were left black and white, and others were digitally colored in an understated palette) have the same elegant restraint of the text. Graceful curves and thick lines add substantially to the visual drama in compositions depicting Abraham about to sacrifice young Isaac, the angry faces of the builders of the Tower of Babel, and the inky cloud that dooms Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction. The controlled use of white space, the discreet and effective use of color, and the tall trim size enhance the memorable, inviting text.

Eric Kimmel tells tales of many heroes from many cultures, culling his subjects' stories from fragments of traditional lore and variants of cultural legend. In Be Not Far From Me, he retells the stories of Biblical heroes and heroines in formal but accessible prose. In five sections (Abraham and His Children, Out of Egypt, Judges and Kings, Prophets, Exile and Redemption), he presents not only the stories of individuals but the story of the Jewish people, a faith, and a covenant. Kimmel's retelling features an Old Testament God of terrible might and majesty, a righteous God who is swift to anger and demanding of the faithful. David Diaz eschews his usual busy collage backgrounds for semi-silhouettes of Old Testament personages set against a rainbow of hues in full-page compositions notable for their controlled authority. The cut-paper portraits have solid black edges offset by the integration of translucent colors that give them a stained glass effect. From the use of color in headings and chapter banners to the small thumbnail inserts that open and close each story, this is a carefully designed volume, its oversized trim adding a hefty physical weight to what is, despite its boldly eye-catching packaging, a very traditional interpretation.

Miriam Chaikin's Clouds of Glory, on the other hand, is less conceptually traditional than either of the previous titles. Rather than concentrating on retelling the plots of familiar Bible stories, Chaikin spends more time on the Holy One, on the personality and motivations of God Himself. It is an intriguing approach. Her God speaks through the angels that achieve ultimate bliss from their nearness to the presence of glory. Chaikin's angels are both female and male, and one even addresses an apparently long-standing gender issue: "Noticing that the Record Keepers listed the names of the boys, but not of the girls, Raziel told the Holy One of it. And she pointed out to him the likely reason. 'The Record Keepers are all males,' she said." The angels have a pivotal role in Chaikin's retold and original Midrashim, as do theological questions of the existence of good and evil, the role of Satan, the ideas that God created out of love and that to be in the presence of glory, the presence of God, is to experience eternal bliss. Trails of circular stars bursting with rays dance through chapter headings and closings. Framed, full-page colored woodcuts, with wide-eyed angels and other faithful smiling from David Frampton's gold-toned, naïvely drafted illustrations, suit the rather fanciful nature of Chaikin's text.

Underlying the obvious purpose of these titles-the retelling, adaptation, and creation of Midrashim-is another less apparent but still unifying theme. All three books present an image of God, and all three can be viewed as a subtle discussion on the nature of God and creation as well as on humanity's place in the universe. Although organized religion and youthful faith are addressed in fiction titles such as Ruby's Miriam's Well (BCCB 5/93) and Rylant's A Fine White Dust (9/86), and Bible stories are retold in apparently infinite numbers of Noah's Arks and Nativities, theological questions related to the inherent nature of Divinity are less plentiful. Three books for youth that deal with the same topic may appear to demand the selection of a single volume only; a commitment to the inclusion of multiple voices, however, makes purchase of all three of these titles a worthy alternative. Sources are carefully noted for each title, and each reteller introduces his or her work with explanatory text.

--Janice Del Negro, Editor

Big Picture Image
May's Bulletin cover illustration
by David Parkins from
God's Story,
Copyright 1998. Used by
permission of Candlewick.

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This page was last updated on May 1, 1998.