Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible

Jane Yolen, Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin; Vali Mintzi, illus.
  • Review
By – April 18, 2018

In Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible, the co-authors and illus­tra­tor invite read­ers to col­lab­o­rate in recre­at­ing the lives of four­teen hero­ines of the Hebrew Bible. A Note from the Authors” explains the book’s pur­pose as well as the cri­te­ria for inclu­sion in this vol­ume: The women are all role mod­els, resource­ful, coura­geous, inven­tive, and smart.” They are decid­ed­ly not the wicked queens, spies, seduc­tress­es, and cour­te­sans” who also fig­ure promi­nent­ly in bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive. The book has a clear agen­da of empow­er­ment, ask­ing read­ers to enter into the lives of Sarah, Esther, Deb­o­rah, Yael, and oth­ers. These women were sus­tained by faith, but were also ques­tion­ing, assertive, and some­times frus­trat­ed. Although the title refers to the com­mu­nal well as a nat­ur­al gath­er­ing place where desert dwellers exchanged ideas, it also reflects the struc­ture of the book itself, a well” from which read­ers will draw inspiration.

This is not the first pic­ture book to attempt to reclaim bib­li­cal women, but Yolen and Dia­mond Goldin have pur­sued a wider goal in their new work. Each woman’s sto­ry is sum­ma­rized in evoca­tive lan­guage. (Leah rec­og­nizes that I will be like a gift that, once giv­en, can­not be returned.”) With­in these pages are inset box­es with com­men­tary” in the form used in clas­si­cal Jew­ish texts, which answer basic ques­tions, sum­ma­rize well-known midrashim, and offer new inter­pre­ta­tions. Some include allu­sions to Chris­t­ian and Mus­lim tra­di­tions. Fol­low­ing this ini­tial immer­sion in each woman’s life are a mono­logue from her per­spec­tive by Dia­mond Goldin, (“Imag­ine Eve,” Imag­ine Rebec­ca,”) and an orig­i­nal poem by Yolen fur­ther embroi­der­ing the text.

The lov­ing wife Rebec­ca, cho­sen for Isaac because of her kind­ness and obe­di­ence, lat­er engages in decep­tion and seem­ing­ly cru­el parental favoritism. While the Tal­mud, writ­ten by men, has many expla­na­tions for her behav­ior, in Meet Me at the Well we are giv­en a glimpse into her own psy­che, with­out male inter­ven­tion. Brave Deb­o­rah, hes­i­tant Esther, and des­per­ate­ly artic­u­late Han­nah are also allowed to speak in their own voic­es. The poems are more var­ied in tone than the Imag­ine” sec­tions, some using sing-song rhyme that might appeal to younger read­ers more than the rest of the book: Sarah was a beauty,/a beau­ty and a half,/though nowhere does it say/​that she knew how to laugh.” On the oth­er hand, Yael’s chal­lenge to male oppres­sion is bold and chill­ing: Bet­ter raise the tent peg, sis­ter — /​know what you are fight­ing for.”

The illus­tra­tions are appeal­ing and acces­si­ble, rem­i­nis­cent of reli­gious school text­books of the 1940s-1960s. They use a lim­it­ed col­or palette of main­ly blue, white, and shades of red­dish brown, and the fig­ures are por­trayed with del­i­cate human­i­ty; in a love­ly pic­ture of Han­nah fit­ting a young Samuel with his spe­cial linen gar­ment, she looks down at him with the affec­tion of any moth­er prepar­ing her son for school. The sim­plic­i­ty of the pic­tures does not con­tra­dict the book’s ambi­tious goal. Rather, Mintzi’s images com­ple­ment that goal by famil­iar­iz­ing the women to read­ers as real peo­ple with iden­ti­fi­able feel­ings and conflicts.

This book is rec­om­mend­ed for chil­dren ages 10 and up. The authors sug­gest that read­ers who wish to explore the sto­ries fur­ther find a Bible in their library or on the inter­net. This advice might lead them to Chris­t­ian edi­tions of the Old Tes­ta­ment, far from iden­ti­cal to the Hebrew Bible. Such edi­tions reorder and rein­ter­pret many of the events in the book as pre­cur­sors to Chris­tian­i­ty. Meet Me at the Well will cer­tain­ly attract read­ers of dif­fer­ent faiths, as well as some who view the book as prin­ci­pal­ly lit­er­ary or polit­i­cal. This is one of the book’s strengths. Par­ents and edu­ca­tors who pre­fer to sit­u­ate these hero­ines with­in Jew­ish tra­di­tion may choose one of many avail­able trans­la­tions of the Masoret­ic Text, prefer­ably one with commentary.

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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