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.