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 Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.