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2.16.2011

Moses in the Bulrushes (1986)

Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolors

Margaret K. McElderry

Another great work by Hutton.  Text-wise, it is the briefest of all the books of his I've reviewed so far, opting as he does to spread out a single sentence over the course of several pages.  For example:

There was a Hebrew family called Levi, and when a son was born to them the mother, seeing that he was a healthy child, decided to hide him carefully for three months, hoping to save his life.

There is an awful lot of story in that sentence, and Hutton divvies it up over four pages, showing us the happy family seemingly posing in front of their home, followed by an interior shot of the women and the infant - worried men glancing in from the background, chickens pecking at their feed in the foreground.  Then there is the loving mother embracing her child, and finally the nervous mother stowing the child away like carry-on luggage.

The book opens, however, with the Pharaoh facing us - the audience - angrily.  "Behold the people of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are!" he yells.

The two things I've come to admire about Hutton are on display here.  First, the contrast between tiny humans and their larger surroundings.  I find this again and again.  It is exemplified here by the minuscule Egyptians and the awesome pillars of the Pharaoh's palace which take up two whole pages, and is paralleled several pages earlier by the Egyptian women bathing in the water, in which it is the tremendous trunks and branches of the surrounding trees which take up most of the pages, producing a staggering comparison.

Secondly, Hutton's unflinching eye for the human body - seldom seen in a children's book.  We can see the Pharaoh's daughter's nude body quite clearly in several pages as she's bathing, and even after she's finished.  It's all presented very matter-of-factly.

I almost wished Hutton had kept the story focused on Moses as a baby.  Instead, near the end, we suddenly see grown-up Moses standing before a long line of several thousand Jews, pyramids silhouetted against darkened, thunderous clouds in the distance.  "Moses was a man of God and lived to be a hundred and twenty years old," is the final sentence of the text, though the final image is of a fish swimming through the bulrushes, to which we have narratively returned.
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Click here for more Bible stories from the Old Testament!

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