Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 5^-8. Slaves and freedmen in the U.S. saw themselves in the Old Testament characters and found courage and strength in the Bible stories. This stirring book shows that connection. The McKissacks retell the Old Testament in the voice of Price Jefferies, once a slave, now a free black abolitionist in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early nineteenth century. In each chapter, Jefferies' child witnesses the oppression of slavery and speaks to her father about it; each time, he tells her a Bible story that relates to their world. The child helps a runaway slave: her father tells her the story of David and Goliath. Her friend is sold away from home: the Bible story is Joseph. She hears about how her parents had to wait years to marry while her father worked to buy her mother's freedom: the story is Rachel and Jacob. A brave woman who is passing for white risks her life to save captive slaves: the Bible story is Esther. The stories keep to the order of the Old Testament, from the Creation to The Book of Proverbs. Notes at the back comment on sources and on the history. Only a few of Ransome's handsome, powerful oil paintings were seen in galley, but they are compelling, beautiful interpretations of the narrative: strong portraits in muted shades for the history; romantic, radiant scenes for the Bible stories. He says in his illustrator's note that he wanted to "draw people with brown and olive complexions, or Semites . . . to dispel the myth created by European representations of Bible characters." With the rhythm and intimacy of the oral tradition, this is storytelling for family and group sharing and also for talking about history and our connections with the universals of the Old Testament. ((Reviewed October 1, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

BookPage Reviews

The newest title from the fertile pens of award-winning children's authors Patricia and Fredrick McKissack is a landmark collection of Bible stories. Yet, as the title Let My People Go suggests, it is much more. The husband/wife McKissack team, using a setting in the early 1800s in Charleston, South Carolina, has created a scenario in which a young black girl named Charlotte questions her father Price Jeffries, a former slave and blacksmith, about various racial injustices they encounter. (Jeffries is loosely based on a real free black who bought his freedom after winning a seamen's lottery.)

Price answers each of the 12 situations by telling a familiar Old Testament parallel story. When Charlotte asks how her father knows slavery will end, he replies with the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. When she has helped a young man escape and he thanks her with the expression "slaying the giant," Price tells the story of David and Goliath. Thus readers are taken back to vivid scenes in two historical periods and made to realize the instrumental role played by biblical stories in the lives of slaves. The strong father/daughter relationship between Price and Charlotte forms an enticing network as it develops between the biblical stories.

But the McKissacks have some larger purpose in this book than simply saying that the Bible was a source of comfort and inspiration to enslaved people in the U.S. In stories from both eras, they subtly give young readers strong lessons in the major choices that life presents, choices about good and evil, about forgiving wrongs, about constancy, about faith. As they say in their opening note: "Our hope is that this book will be like a lighthouse that can guide young readers through good times and bad."

James Ransome's illustrations vary in quality and the degree to which they add to the stories. Most are done in oils and some of these seem too dark or simplistic, but his watercolor vignettes which open the chapters are delightful. Perhaps a more careful design would also help readers make the numerous transitions between time periods.

The stories in Let My People Go are "not for one people, at one time, in one place. They are for all of us, for all times." Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews

Horn Book Guide Reviews

In 1865, an abolitionist looks back at events in her childhood that inspired her father to tell her Bible stories. Though somewhat elaborate, the framework is skillfully set up, and the stories of African-American slavery in the early 1800s and retellings of Old Testament stories are relevantly paired and well told. Both South Carolina and biblical lands are captured in somber, often dramatic paintings. Author and illustrator notes open the book, and historical notes are appended. Bib. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Library Media Connection

Ransome's luminous cover provides the premise for this collection of familiar Bible stories retold. In the background the clouds encompass the image of an all-knowing God while a former slave, Price Jefferies, holds the shoulders of his daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte's mother and father are both storytellers and, in the context of recounting family history, they compare their lives with stories from the Bible. Each story is illustrated with full-page paintings showing Charlotte arid her parents as well as the biblical scene. Illustrations of the Jefferies family are in browns and whites while the biblical paintings reflect back to the color-filled, elaborate depictions common in many illustrated Bibles. These twelve Old Testament tales and stories told through the voice and perspective of a free-black living in South Carolina in the early nineteenth-century impart much history of the days of slavery and the similarities of that time with the plight of the Jews in biblical times. A compelling book to read and enjoy. Highly Recommended. Sharron McElmeel, Writer and Consultant, Cedar Rapids, Iowa © 1999 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this stunning achievement, the renowned husband-and-wife team sets 12 Old Testament stories in the context of early 19th-century South Carolina, illustrated with Ransome's glorious paintings. As the McKissacks state in their introduction, "The stories are timeless treasures, universally read and honored, but no group embraced the Hebrew heroes of old more than African Americans during slavery times." The dozen tales unfold as Price Jeffries, who won his freedom in a seaman's lottery, tells them to his daughter in answer to her questions about what she sees happening in the world around her. The collection opens as father and daughter encounter a constable for wealthy slaveholder Mr. Riley and Charlotte asks her father, "Do Mr. Sam Riley own the moon?" He responds with the story of creation and tells her, "Nobody can make a slave of the moon, the sun, the stars, or any part of what God created, no matter how rich they may be. God made something wonderful out of nothing. What human being can do that?" Through the characters of Charlotte and Price Jeffries, based on historical abolitionists, the McKissacks answer the toughest questions of this troubling period of American history with stories of faith. When Charlotte witnesses an African child's death on the auction block, she asks her father, "Why is it God lets one person buy and own another person?" He answers with the story of Eden and "how God let the first people make their own choices." The story of the courtship of Charlotte's parents ("a love worth waiting for") leads the way to that of Jacob and Rachel. Each Old Testament story builds upon the one before it, weaving the development of Charlotte's personal history and the Biblical stories into a seamless whole. The volume's design further integrates the interlacing elements: Charlotte's story is set in warm bluish type, the Biblical retellings in classic black. Ransome's remarkable portraits capture the full range of Charlotte's and Price's emotions, as well as the serene dignity of leaders such as Solomon and Moses and of Daniel in the lion's den. His version of dramatic Old Testament events, particularly his vision of the creation, are captivating. Readers will likely return to this extraordinary volume again and again, knowing that the answers to life's painful questions reside in the stories of faith that have comforted others for thousands of years. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 3 Up-A masterful combination of Bible stories and African-American history. Price Jefferies, a former slave but now a freeman of color, interprets the ways of God. He compares the experiences of slaves and their masters in early 19th-century Charleston, SC, to those of well-known figures of the Old Testament. Jefferies, a blacksmith, has a close and loving relationship with his daughter, Charlotte, and tells her, in his own simple but eloquent manner, the various Bible stories that help to connect the trials of the Hebrew people with their own. Every tale has an uplifting, hopeful, yet realistic moral: good and bad choices (Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel), forgiveness (Joseph), patient love (Jacob and Rachel), courage (Esther), and so on. Each one is beautifully intertwined with a problem or situation that the girl observes and about which she questions her father. The poignant juxtaposition of the Biblical characters and Charlotte's personal narrative is authentic and moving. Written in a straightforward style, the text alternates between blue typography (Charlotte's words) and black (her father's), in a handsome format. Unfortunately, in the story of Ruth and Naomi, the tribes of Israel are mistakenly described as being the ancestors rather than the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. The occasional illustrations are powerful oil paintings in rich colors, emotional and evocative. Included are introductory words from the authors, illustrator, and fictitious narrator; notes; and both historical and Biblical bibliographies. This fresh view of how the eternal truths of life span the centuries gives this work a special place among Bible story collections, books of virtue, and the history of American slavery, appropriate for any collection.-Patricia Pearl Dole, formerly at First Presbyterian School, Martinsville, VA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal