In this powerful and lyrical picture book inspired by Jewish legends called Midrashim, Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) imagines the viewpoint of the white ram that plays a key role in the Bible story of Abraham and Isaac. On the last day of creation, God places a white ram in the garden of Eden, telling it to wait until God calls him. Years pass until the summons finally comes, and the ram must fend off the tricks and temptations of "the evil one" exclaiming as he travels afar, "I must save the child!" The white ram reaches Abraham just in time, offering itself as sacrifice instead of the boy a bargain God wholeheartedly accepts. The ram's selflessness doesn't stop there, however. Among other things, it offers its horns as the sacred shofar, whose sound reminds all people of God's love and his forgiveness of the sins of "Isaac and his children and his children's, children's children" at each Rosh Hashanah or New Year's Day. Gerstein achieves a striking, textured medium using a sunny palette and a blend of pen, ink, oils and colored pencil. His depiction of a craggy and truly sinister-looking evil one, and formations of clouds and sky that suggest the hands of God, will have young readers repeatedly poring over these pages. Ages 6-10. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Ken Marantz
Gerstein draws on the Old Testament Bible story of Abraham, asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But the focus is on the white ram, which was made by God, according to legends, in the twilight of the first Sabbath. Even after Adam and Eve are expelled, the ram is told by God to wait in the Garden of Eden until called. Finally, when God calls, the Devil tries to stop the ram, saying it will mean his death. The Devil in various forms keeps trying to delay him, but the ram runs on, knowing he must save the child. At the top of the mountain where Abraham is preparing to sacrifice Isaac, he hears God telling Abraham to sacrifice the ram instead. And it is the horn of the ram that is blown on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, to remind God to forgive all his children's children "till the end of time." Gerstein uses pen and ink, oil paint, and colored pencil for his scenes of the obedient ram, which begin in Eden. A series of inventive Evil Ones, ugly and threatening, try to stop him. Because of the Jewish prohibition of visualizing God, the skies in these scenes have cloud formations, which suggest hands and even perhaps His face. The visual sequences are successful in conveying both spirituality and powerful action in believable contexts. Gerstein adds a brief background note.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-5-This stunningly illustrated picture book is based on a Midrash about a white ram that is made by God on the sixth day of creation for a single purpose-to sacrifice himself on the altar in exchange for Abraham's son. The art, done in pen and ink, oils, and colored pencil, is mesmerizing. With a captivating use of language along with true drama, Gerstein tells of the ram that patiently awaits the moment when he can play his part in God's plan. "I must save the boy!" he repeats, and the story takes on a true sense of urgency. The selfless act contributes much to subsequent Jewish history, and thus to the entire world. Young children might be frightened by "the evil one," who is depicted as taking many clever forms in order to foil the ram's intention, but most kids will find the tale exciting. Both Judaic and Christological references can be gleaned from the text, but the story is truly ecumenical and would be universal to all belief systems. Dedicated to "all our fellow animals from whom we take and receive so much," this book is sure to provoke thought and provide a moment of reflection about those in our lives who sacrifice so much for us. A masterful melding of illustration and story, The White Ram will enhance all collections.-Lisa Silverman, Sinai Temple Library, Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Working from Midrash or legend based on the Old Testament, Gerstein tells the story of the white ram, created by God on the sixth day, with a mission to save the life of Abraham's son, Isaac, at the sacrificial altar. A prosaic and flowing narrative describes the ram's challenging race to reach Abraham in time. A demonic-looking malfeasant first warns him of death and then creates a series of increasingly perilous impediments to delay and detract from the important deed: a grassy field of food; a sparkling thirst-quenching fountain; a fearsome roaring lion and finally, a bush of brambles that entangles the ram's horns. Whimsical, detailed, fanciful paintings in diffused tones complete the mythical rendition. Gerstein maintains the Jewish tradition of not picturing an image of God by embedding His presence in several camouflaged cloud scenes with allusions of hands and even a sage profile. This cleverly adds an element of optical illusion while revealing God's timely intervention. The ram's eternal significance is noted through the symbolic blowing of the Shofar made from a ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah. A graceful and artistic biblical portrayal to be read aloud throughout the year. (Picture book. 4-8)
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.