Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review: Exodus by Brian Wildsmith

This week in our World Religion class, we are studying the story of Exodus, or the escape of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, following Moses in the desert for 40 years, and eventual entry into the Promised Land.  The book we are using to tell this tale is Exodus by Brian Wildsmith.  Brian Wildsmith is a book writer and illustrator from England who is not nearly as well known as he should be, given the gorgeous work that he does (he has won the English equivalent of the Caldecott for the best children's book artwork).

The text is clear and straight-forward and condenses an article book of the Old Testament/Torah in a concise, unbiased, and easily comprehensible way.  While it can be used with elementary students, I think it is appropriate for middle schoolers as well.  But what really sets this book apart is the artwork.  The best word I can come up with to describe the illustrations is sumptuous!  Wildsmith uses rich, almost glowing colors, and even gold leaf in some pages.  His pictures are on a grand scale, capturing the grandeur of Egypt at the time of the Pharoahs and pyramids, and including depictions of hundreds or even thousands of people in the background.  He includes, but doesn't dwell on, the less savory aspects of the story (such as the plagues and the killing of the first-born), and the drawings of that section won't upset more sensitive readers.

But one of the best parts of his take on this classic tale, at least to my mind, is how he shows the more fantastic components of the tale, such as the burning bush and God leading the people of Israel as a cloud or as a flame.  I particularly like how he illustrates God in a symbolic, non-human way.

This is the kind of book that the illustrations can bring up as many discussion topics as the text.  Like the Blockhead book,  I think the wonderful art helps make it relevent to an older audience.  Those who have heard the story before can find new information and objects of interest in the pictures, and those who aren't familiar with the tale aren't likely to forget it with such beautiful illustrations to support a visual memory of whole event.

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