Everyone knows the story of Moses. When the Pharaoh ordered that all Hebrew boys be killed, Hebrew mothers hid their children in baskets by the water. The Pharaoh's daughter found and adopted baby Moses, who grew up to lead his people out of bondage.
It may be an old story, but it has survived retelling after retelling. It has even been made into several films, including the classic The Ten Commandments and more recently, Prince of Egypt.
Julius Lester, author of Pharaoh's Daughter (ages 12 and up), breathes life yet again into the tale and this time for young readers. This time, too, there are some changes. Based on his research into linguistics and history, Lester chooses to call Moses Mosis (meaning is born, and the suffix of Tuthmosis ). He also changes Hebrew to Habiru. Another unusual feature of the book is that it focuses on Mosis's mysterious sister, Almah, as much as it does on Mosis himself.
You probably have never heard of Almah. Lester explains in an author's note that one passage in Exodus mentions a sister and though scholars have always assumed it was Moses' older sister Miriam, the passage does not actually identify her. Lester took creative control at this point, fabricating a different sister: Almah.
Almah goes to live in the Pharaoh's palace with her baby brother, Mosis, when he is adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter. She grows to love Egyptian life, eventually rejecting her Habiru roots to become an Egyptian priestess and a dancer.
Mosis, too, must choose between Egyptian and Habiru culture; unlike his sister, however, he chooses to identify with the culture of his birth. The novel ends while he is still yet a boy, but we know the great leader he will become.
Although steeped in history and religion, Lester's novel appeals to young readers because of its timeless themes. It is a coming of age novel about two teenagers going through awkward adolescences, making choices, and finally finding their true selves.
Vivian A. Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio.