The Moses featured in Jacqueline Jules’s and Eleanor Reese Howell’s new picture book is not Moses the Lawgiver, but the nurturing Moses who saves a stray lamb. Jules emphasizes that God sees qualities in the young shepherd that will allow him to lead the Jewish people to freedom. Her author’s note identifies the source of this account in the midrash, Shemot Rabbah.
Looking after his flock, Moses notices that one lamb is missing. Jules implies that he lacks confidence; he must ask himself if the risk of finding the stray animal is worth endangering the rest of the others in his care. In the same way that the text reveals different aspects of Moses’s character, the illustrations offer various angles of perspective: Moses in profile, obscured by intense sunlight, and even viewed from above. As Jules observes, “God was watching too.”
When Moses speaks directly to the lamb who has unintentionally caused him trouble, he is understanding, assuring the animal that he recognizes why she has strayed, and allowing her to drink water. Howell depicts Moses kneeling down to the lamb’s level and reaching out his hand, while his shepherd’s staff lies on the ground behind him.
The midrash at the center of this story fills in a blank, even for readers who are most familiar with the biblical accounts of Moses’s birth and his young adulthood in Egypt. His heroism does not appear out of nowhere, but is rather attributed to traits that have developed over the course of his life. His interactions with the lamb reflect the difficult nature of leadership: Moses must be kind yet firm when the lamb is “not making it easy for [him] to catch her.”
Jules does not need to spell this lesson of human potential out for children. Instead, Moses’s actions speak for themselves. Eventually, his uncertainty changes to conviction, as he decides to prioritize saving one vulnerable creature.
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.