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Queen Esther The Morning Star by Mordicai…
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Queen Esther The Morning Star

by Mordicai Gerstein

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Huh? Why the different skin tones that seem to symbolize beauty or something but don't seem to be consistent? Why is the villain so stereotypically ugly? What's up with the sackcloth & ashes? Why is the king not punished? What about the unfortunate first queen? Gah - I wish religious retellings would be vetted by the non-religious for clarity and effectiveness. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Mordicai Gerstein - who won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his picture-book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers - presents a mostly faithful retelling of the biblical story of Esther and Mordicai in Queen Esther the Morning Star, accompanied by his own gouache illustrations. With the exception of Mordicai's prophetic dream about two warring dragons, there are few surprises here, as the story follows Esther - a beautiful Jewish maiden who is chosen as a bride for the powerful Persian King Ahasuerus, when he rejects his willful first wife, Vashti - and the dangerous course she must navigate, when the king's scheming adviser, Haman, plots the destruction of the Jews.

I'm not sure I would have picked this retelling of the Esther story up, had it not been chosen as one of our April selections, over in the Picture-Book Club to which I belong, where our theme this month is "Royalty." I've read a number of Purim picture-books, both tales of the holiday itself, and of the story of Esther, which the holiday commemorates, and wasn't really looking for another one. Also, although I generally have great respect for Gerstein's work, the artwork here did not appeal to me at all, and - in one case - was rather repellent.

I'm referring of course, to the depiction of Haman and his wife, which felt oddly (and disturbingly) racialized to me. Not only do these two figures (and their ten sons) have a different (pasty greenish) skin tone than anyone else in the story, but they also sport beaked/hookish noses (again, unlike the other characters) that reminded me of some ugly antisemitic cartoons I have seen. Given Mr. Gerstein's credentials (not to mention his identity!), I feel that this cannot be intentional - for the record, I showed the artwork to someone whose opinion I trust, making no introductory comments, and asking her what she thought, and discovered that she made no such connection (the Haman family looked like 'witches' to her) - so take that as you will. Unfortunately, once the comparison occurred to me, I simply couldn't avoid thinking of it, and it definitely colored my reading of the book. My advice, to adults screening this for young readers, is to take a look at the art, and decide for yourself. Or, you could pick up Miriam Chaikin's Esther, which tells the same story, and is graced by the beautiful illustrations of Vera Rosenberry. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 22, 2013 |
Although I generally quite enjoyed Mordicai Gerstein's Queen Esther the MornignStar, this is definitely a book for older children above the age of eight or even ten. The topics presented (abuse of power, vengeance, racial hatred, persecution) are problematic and might (no, should) require discussion and explanation; they could also prove frightening for younger or sensitive children.

I think this book works well for describing the Old Testament story of Esther and the origins of the Hebrew holiday of Purim, especially if complemented by discussions on or about some of the controversial topics mentioned above. For example, one could discuss the fact that while King Ahasuerus has absolute power (he could choose any woman for his wife, Esther really had no choice in the matter), he is also foolish and thus easily manipulated and influenced by clever schemers (such as Haman and his wife). Another topic for discussion might be that courage, faith and fortitude, even in the face of desperate danger, will often be rewarded in the end. Although warning the king of the plot against him might lead Mordecai into potentially mortal danger, and although he, himself, has ample reason to be mistrustful of the monarch, Mordecai warns King Ahasuerus of the plot to poison him, not only saving the king's life, but also being rewarded for this deed by becoming prime minister (while Mordecai's erstwhile adversary and enemy Haman is hanged, instead of the Jews he desired to destroy). And Queen Esther, although afraid of going unbidden to her husband, the king, is brave enough to perchance provoke Ahasuerus' anger in order to save her people. While I do not particularly like the vengeance part, I am also glad that Mordicai Gerstein has decided not to sugar-coat this aspect of the biblical story. Such historical (or biblical) details make for interesting and educational discussions, while Mordecai and Esther's actions show that being brave, doing the courageous, the right thing, will often result in more lasting and beneficial rewards than scheming, hatred and prejudice.

I cannot say that I find the accompanying illustrations all that appealing. I do think that for the most part, they work well enough for the story, but I really believe that Haman, his wife and their sons are portrayed horribly, and in a much too creepy (even perhaps racially problematic) manner. I know that Haman and his wife are, indeed, evil and scheming, but I tend to believe that Haman was likely such a seemingly successful schemer for so long because he was able to convince and control the king. I somehow doubt that a person looking like some sort of creepy, slinking magician (the whole family is basically depicted as being rather witch-like, the way the evil witches of folk and fairy lore often were and are illustrated) would be able to so completely hoodwink a monarch who seems above all to relish pleasure, beauty and grace. In my opinion, Haman and his wife's evil nature would have been all the more frightening and believable if they had looked fair on the outside, but been rotten to the core on the inside (and the fact that the illustrations do appear or could be taken as appearing racially charged makes me recommend this story with some reservations). ( )
  gundulabaehre | Mar 31, 2013 |
Esther, a jew, is forced move away from her dear cousin Mordecai to become King Ahasuerus of Persia’s wife. King Ahasuerus prime minister, Haman, declares that all Jews of Persia will be put to death. After Mordecai saves the king’s life by warning him not to eat the poisoned soup made by his cook he is rewarded with the finest robes, silver, gold, and parade. Following, Esther asks the King to not keep his promise to Haman about killing all Jews because she herself is Jewish and so is her cousin who had saved his life. The king happily accepts and Haman is hung the next day. I would share this story in my class along with other folklore/ books. I think this book is okay and I do not feel like this would be a book that absolutely had to be read because I do not see anything significant that students could learn from it, except that it makes connections with the Holocaust. ( )
  amoore1 | Oct 30, 2012 |
Queen Esther the Morning Star is a Jewish tale that relates the story of Mordecai brave struggle against Haman to stop the killing of Jews and his cousin Esther who is married to the King. The text is descriptive and uses some advanced language that very young reader might find hard to understand. The illustrations are different from Gerstein's other works but align with the text well. This text could be used in a social studies classroom to learn about Jewish culture or a ELA classroom to study folklore.
  pbrent | Jul 16, 2012 |
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Retells the story of how a beautiful Jewish girl became the Queen of Persia and saved her people from death at the hands of the evil Hamen.

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