This book is Gerstein's adaptation of a Kurdistani tale. It's a lovely, poetic tale of how even Moses does not want to die when God tells him that it is time. The mountains, sea, sun, moon and stars will not help him live. Death must come to all. When Moses' soul is finally with God, though, he and God's messengers and angels rejoice, for Moses will be with God always. An affirmation of life, and an acceptance of death.
School Library Journal
Gr 2 Up-When God tells Moses that his time on earth has ended, Moses protests that his 120 years "`seem like one short day.'" God answers that even the longest span speeds by. But Moses does not accept death until the very mountains, the sun, and the stars assure him that their time too will come. Then Moses submits, and God Himself descends to take his soul. Now He also weeps, saying "`Who will oppose evildoers? Who will speak for me and love me as Moses did? And whom will I love as well?'" Then the angels and souls in heaven comfort Him, asserting that "`in death as in life, Moses is yours.'" This moving and brilliant example of midrash combines the universal experience of revulsion at mortality, and the healing moment of acceptance, with a sense of the greatness of a Western culture-hero, Moses, and the Jewish tradition of intimate yet respectful relations with God. The oil on vellum illustrations, dominated by shades of blue and amber, recall the naivet of medieval manuscripts, but also convey both the transcendence of God and His immanence, as He touches the earth and even Moses's lips. It would be a pity if this simple but profound book, richer than Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet (HarperCollins, 1987), sat ignored on the religion shelf. Its wisdom and beauty lift it far above the sectarian.-Patricia Dooley (Green), St. George's School, Newport, RI
A moving fable that incorporates the Jewish concept of struggling with God. Moses has lived his allotted time, but he is not yet ready to die, despite God's call. Although he eloquently pleads for more time--"Turn me into a tiny butterfly, only let me live"--God refuses to extend his life, sending the archangels to fetch Moses' soul, but they are too sorrowful to perform the task; only the angel of death takes on the assignment with relish, but Moses smites him. So the Lord Himself descends to Earth to take Moses' soul with a kiss; yet afterward, He experiences almost unbearable sadness. He has lived up to His own rules, but He has lost the human closest to Him. The Chagall-like paintings, featuring cabalistic symbolism and heavenly colors, are full of magic. Younger children probably will not understand either the story or the art in a conventional manner, but they will intuit the themes of love, loss, and humanity's mysterious relationship with God. The best audience for this, however, may be older children who will be able to talk about many of the poignant issues the story raises.
Mordicai Gerstein was already a talented children’s book illustrator when he decided to start writing children’s books of his own. Since then, he has released dozens of titles and has won nearly as many awards for his stories of childhood innocence, spiritual exploration, and imagination gone wild. His biographical story of tightrope walker Philippe Petit won the 2004 Caldecott Medal, making The Man Who Walked Between the Towers the most distinguished American picture book for children in 2004.
Mordicai Gerstein has always been an artist. As a child, he enjoyed painting and eventually graduated from art school in Los Angeles. He continued painting in New York City and supported himself and his family for 25 years by designing and directing animated television commercials. He says, "I had always loved cartoons, especially Bugs Bunny, and I found I enjoyed making animated films. Even a 30-second commercial involved drawing and painting, storytelling, not to mention actors, music, and sound effects."
During the 1960s, Gerstein made several films that received critical acclaim. In 1966, The Room won the Award of the Film Clubs of France at the International Festival for Experimental Film, and in 1968, The Magic Ring won a CINE Golden Eagle.
His career took a dramatic turn when he met children's author Elizabeth Levy in 1970. He has illustrated her Something Queer Is Going On chapter books ever since, and it was Levy and her editor who encouraged Gerstein to write a book on his own. His debut came in 1983 with Arnold of the Ducks, the story of a young boy who gets lost in the wild and is raised by ducks. The New York Times hailed Gerstein's freshman effort as one of the year's best children's books, and he went on to write two more volumes exploring the theme of feral childhood. In 1998 he released The Wild Boy, a picture book based on the true story of a young 18th-century French boy who was found living in the woods and was put on display as an oddity, only to escape and be captured again years later. That same year, Gerstein released Victor, a young adult novel about the same boy.
Gerstein tells the story is of a Tibetan woodcutter who is given a choice between reincarnation or heaven in The Mountains of Tibet, which received the distinction of being one of 1987's ten best illustrated books of the year, according to The New York Times. Although the book is written for kids around age seven, Gerstein approaches the subject of death with a bold, sensitive plot and elegant illustrations. Spirituality is a major theme in many of Gerstein's books. He has interpreted tales from the Bible in Jonah and the Two Great Fish (1997), Noah and the Great Flood (1999), and Queen Esther the Morning Star (2001). Other titles such as The Seal Mother (1986), The Story of May (1993), and The Shadow of a Flying Bird (1994) also express Gerstein's reverential awe for the world.
Young readers can also stretch their imaginations with Gerstein's more playful books. Vocabulary is fun in The Absolutely Awful Alphabet (1999), where the letter P is actually a particularly putrid predator! Bedtime Everybody! (1996) has a young girl's stuffed animals planning a bedtime picnic. Behind the Couch (1996) takes readers on an exciting caper into an unknown world of grazing dust balls, Lost Coin Hill and the Valley of the Stuffed Animals. In Stop Those Pants (1998), a boy is forced to play hide-and-seek with his clothes as he gets ready for the day. Gerstein pays tribute to American composer Charles Ives in What Charlie Heard (2002), the story of a boy's unique talent for interpreting all the sounds of daily life.
Another biographical picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2003) tells the story of Philippe Petit, the daredevil who walked across a tightrope suspended between New York City's World Trade Center towers in 1974. The book won the Caldecott Medal in 2004, and parents have praised the book as an invaluable tool for talking to their children about the events of 9/11.
Many of Gerstein's children's books are destined to be classics. His style of writing and illustration brings each of his stories to life, shows a passion for adventure, and relishes the joy that comes from understanding the mysteries of the world.
Good To Know
Despite a successful career illustrating children's books, the first book Gerstein wrote, Arnold of the Ducks, was turned down by seven publishers. Eventually, The New York Times called it one of the best children's books of the year.
Gerstein was inspired to writeThe Mountains of Tibet after reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead.