Purim’s Coming – Where is Queen Esther?

Purim begins at sundown this coming Saturday evening, February 27.  I just finished posting some Purim books as featured reviews and am sad that there were no  Queen Esther books available to share with you. The newest ones have, in my opinion, some irregularities that make them unacceptable for Jewish audiences and my favorites from the past are currently out of print.

However, because  “out of print” no longer means “not available for purchase” these days, I wanted to talk about my favorite Queen Esther books that are still on my book shelf at home. You still might be able to find them online at abebooks.com, alibris.com or any other internet used book website. Better still, check them out of your local or synagogue library.

Esther’s Story by Diane Wolkstein. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. ©1996, William Morrow & Company.  Ages 6-11.  Of all the Queen Esther books, this is my favorite. Written in the form of Esther’s diary, this is the Purim story as Esther saw it,  lived it and felt it.  It starts with Esther writing as a young orphaned girl, trusting in her Uncle Mordecai when he changes her name from Hadassah to Esther. Missing him when she is sent to the palace as a possible queen for King Ahasuerus. Maturing as she becomes queen and learns about palace intrigue and finally must put her own life on the line to save the lives of her people. The powerful and emotional text is accompanied by exquisitely detailed, rich gouache paintings.  The text is fairly true to the Megillah.

Queen Esther Saves Her People retold by Rita Golden Gelman. Illustrated by Frané Lessac. ©1998, Scholastic Press. This version of Queen Esther’s story pretty much sticks to the one told in the Megillah, with a few midrashic elements slipped in along the way just to make things interesting, for example, King Ahasuerus is portrayed as a drunk, gambling, moron in this adaptation.   The primitive-style gouache paintings are colorful, dramatic and use clever details to engage the reader with the story. The Purim Notebook in the back of the book provides an excellent overview of the holiday and its traditions.

Queen Esther, the Morning Star written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. ©2000, Simon & Schuster. Of the three Queen Esther stories I am presenting here, this one least sticks to the script. However, when Mordicai Gerstein is involved, who wants a script? This is a midrash about Queen Esther, and it is a good one. The story unfolds with all its up and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows. Perhaps an event here or there does not occur at exactly the same moment or in exactly the same way that it might have in the Megillah, oh well.   What is a dragon or two, an angel here or there where midrash is concerned? The point of the story is the same: Esther goes to the palace – Haman plots to kill the Jews – Mordecai informs Esther of the plot – Esther saves the Jews – Haman dies – everyone celebrates. The best part of this book is the illustrations. Again gouache paintings in Mordicai Gerstein’s unique style – colorful, dramatic, magical.

There you have it, three wonderful Queen Esther books for the Purim holiday.  Please go find one and check it out over the weekend, maybe you can make your Purim costume based on some of the illustrations.   Hag Sameach/Happy Holiday!

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

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