Passover: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Freedom

  • Review
By – March 29, 2023

Fol­low­ing the release of Hanukkah: The Fes­ti­val of Lights (2020), Gold­en Books has now pub­lished Passover: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Free­dom. Com­bin­ing the his­to­ry of the hol­i­day with a con­tem­po­rary cel­e­bra­tion, the book is both a good source of infor­ma­tion for young read­ers and a com­pelling story.

Illus­tra­tor Joanie Stone depicts a diverse fam­i­ly of four seat­ed at a blue-and-gold table, which is set with care for the spe­cial night. At first, the seder plate is emp­ty; only lat­er does it appear filled with all the com­po­nents of the rit­u­al. By the final page, as the younger child proud­ly holds up the afikomen, all four mem­bers are seat­ed close­ly together.

Mean­while, author Bon­nie Bad­er con­structs a straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive of the Exo­dus. Writ­ing books for chil­dren that address enslave­ment and suf­fer­ing can be chal­leng­ing. Bad­er choos­es to focus on the most crit­i­cal events to make the text both accu­rate and acces­si­ble. One mis­lead­ing, if minor, point states that the Israelites built cities, palaces, and pyra­mids.” Nei­ther arche­o­log­i­cal evi­dence nor rab­binic author­i­ties sup­port the last claim on that list, although pop­u­lar cul­ture has rein­forced the misconception.

Per­haps the most dif­fi­cult part of the sto­ry involves the ten plagues. Bad­er and Stone suc­ceed in bal­anc­ing these fright­en­ing con­se­quences of Pharaoh’s intran­si­gence with an under­stand­ing of children’s emo­tion­al response to them. An afflict­ed cow lies dead; a boy is cov­ered with boils, although the image is not par­tic­u­lar­ly graph­ic. There is no way to avoid the worst of the plagues, when the first­born of the sons of the Egyp­tians all die. Bad­er fol­lows her spare descrip­tion with the reminder that even this most severe pun­ish­ment did not cause Pharoah to relent. There is no pic­ture here; the words stand alone.

A strong but very human Moses is cen­tral to the sto­ry. From the moment he appears on the title page as an infant, to his unfail­ing lead­er­ship under duress, he is a thor­ough­ly believ­able hero. Stand­ing with his flock of sheep as he con­fronts the burn­ing bush, he under­stands God’s mes­sage and sim­ply knew what he had to do.” Moses leads men, women, and chil­dren across the Red Sea, and has clear­ly grown into great author­i­ty, but still he remains hum­ble. Some atten­tion to Miriam’s sig­nif­i­cance in Exo­dus would have enhanced the book; she does not appear even in the scene in which Pharaoh’s daugh­ter res­cues Moses from the Nile. That being said, Passover: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Free­dom is sure to prompt active con­ver­sa­tions about the holiday’s impor­tance. This lends itself to one of the key mitzvot of Passover: telling the sto­ry to one’s chil­dren, and mak­ing them feel as if they, and all Jews, were there.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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