Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story

Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story

by Deborah Bodin Cohen, Jago

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

According to rabbinic lore, Nachshon was the first Israelite to enter the sea when Pharaoh's army pursued the fleeing slaves. Cohen (The Seventh Day) and Jago (Fig's Giant) offer a backstory to this legend, portraying Nachshon as a boy brave enough to defy his taskmasters yet unable to overcome his fear of water. Inspired by Moses ("Real freedom means believing in yourself"), Nachshon discovers that redemption means being "free from slavery and free from his fears." Although the themes of self-actualization land rather heavily (Moses sounds like a disciple of Oprah), Cohen succeeds in transporting the Exodus story to a personal scale without robbing it of significance. Jago's highly stylized digital pictures are handsome and heartfelt: his gold-hued palette and mural-like compositions convey the heat and oppressiveness of Egypt, while his elaborately textured (and seemingly handmade) surfaces make the pages feel burnished by the forces of history and faith. Ages 3-8. (Feb.)

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Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Nachshon, the hero of this Passover story, does appear briefly in the Torah. But as the author notes, this tale of his bravery and faith is more fully developed in the Midrash. When the Israelites are slaves of the Pharaoh in Egypt, young Nachshon dreams of freedom. He is brave enough to smuggle water to the other slaves and spy on the Egyptians. But he is afraid to swim in the Nile. When Moses arrives to inspire hope in the Israelites, he reminds Nachshon that "Real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them." The Pharaoh will not free the slaves as Moses demands, so God sends the plagues. Finally the Pharaoh tells Moses that they can leave. But when they reach the Red Sea, the Pharaoh's army comes after them. Despite his fear, Nachshon leads Moses and his people into the sea, which parts for them. Jago interprets the tale abstractly, relying on color, mostly browns and greens, to evoke emotion. Figures are composed like statues and organized in tableaus. Thus the arrival of the galloping Egyptian horses at the Red sea is a shocking image. The textured illustrations evoke the mystic quality of this possibly historic event. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Children's Literature - Lesley Moore Vossen
How does someone who is brave find the courage to confront the one thing that most frightens him? Nachshon is a boy living in the days when the Egyptian Pharaohs have enslaved his parents, grandparents, and even his great great-grandparents. But Nachshon is not afraid of the taskmasters that force his father and brothers to labor in the quarries mixing straw and mud into bricks. He slips by them and smuggles drinking water for his relatives. He does not flee when the Pharaoh goes through the city market but instead spies on him. Everyone begins to call him Brave Nachshon, but at the end of each day, when the other slaves bathe in the River Nile, Nachshon is too afraid to swim. He imagines being grabbed by giant crocodiles or sinking to the river's bottom. While Nachshon dreams of freedom, he is afraid that he will be a slave like his ancestors before him. When Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt to the Red Sea, Nachshon discovers that, if you face your fears and have faith, all things are possible, and he is the first to step into the sea. A story of complex issues told in few words, this Passover story makes the story of one boy represent the struggles for both freedom and courage of many. Jago's illustrations are strange, modern, and stylized, and their color palette of golds, yellows, and oranges make the heat of Egypt come alive. Reviewer: Lesley Moore Vossen
School Library Journal

Gr 1-4

Not much has been written about the biblical figure believed to be the first to step into the Sea of Reeds during the Israelite's exodus from Egypt. However, Cohen has successfully fictionalized the scant biblical account and embellished the midrash to create a child-friendly picture book about overcoming fear, trusting in God, and believing in oneself. As a boy, Nachshon earned his reputation for bravery by smuggling cool drinking water to his father and brothers in the quarries, spying on Pharaoh's royal courtiers, and venturing out into the darkness of the ninth plague to check on his neighbors. But despite these courageous acts, he was terrified of the water and refused to venture into the Nile. Yet when the Israelites finally fled and stood on the banks of the Sea of Reeds, it was Nachshon who led the way. Remembering what Moses had taught-"Real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them"-he stepped into the water and the level reached his lips before the sea miraculously parted, allowing the Israelites to escape from the advancing Egyptian army. The digitally prepared, mixed-media illustrations utilize muted yellow, orange, and brown tones to depict the sweltering heat of the desert and bright blue and green tones to illustrate the celebration of freedom. They complement and enhance the text marvelously. A wonderful, unique addition.-Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL

Kirkus Reviews
"Brave Nachshon," afraid only of swimming, and his family have been slaves in Egypt for generations. Then Moses speaks of freedom, a dream Nachshon has had all his life. At the "Sea of Reeds," which sits between the advancing Egyptians and escape, Nachshon is the first to step in, emboldened by the great man's words of encouragement. It is when he is almost completely submerged that the sea parts and Moses leads his people across. This is a stirring tale of courage and faith, and it reads aloud well. An author's note provides background for the tale, from brief references to Nachshon from the Torah to a more fully developed story from the Midrash. Jago's stylized art supplies his characters with Egyptian profiles atop slender bodies; the predominant oranges, yellows and browns, then blues and greens, befit the desert and watery settings, respectively. Knowledgeable readers will miss a recounting of all the plagues visited on the Egyptians as well as the miracle of the waters washing over them. Still, a good addition to the holiday canon. (Picture book/religion. 6-9)

Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Passover Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 9.70(h) x 0.10(d)
Age Range:
3 - 8 Years

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