Moses and the Run­away Lamb

  • Review
By – May 3, 2023

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 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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