cover image When the Beginning Began: Stories about God, the Creatures, and Us

When the Beginning Began: Stories about God, the Creatures, and Us

Julius Lester. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201238-0

Working in the tradition of midrashim, or explorations of biblical texts, through the use of imagination and story, Lester (What a Truly Cool World) crafts a humorous, deeply personal and irreverent interpretation of the book of Genesis. His tales attempt to answer some of the questions unanswered by the biblical text--Why did God stop what He was doing to create the world? How did the angels feel about it? Just why did that Snake tempt Woman to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?--in order to lead readers ""into a new experience of the Divine."" The quotations from Genesis that open many of the 17 chapters (translated from the Hebrew by Lester) provide a framework from which the author riffs and improvises with abandon, throwing in a few pourquoi tales, an epic battle, God's ruminations about the process of creation and a lot of colloquial language and imagery (references to the Internet, business trips and peanut butter, to name just a few)--creating a delicious pastiche of retelling in the process. Lisker's folk-art oil paintings (one per chapter) lack the humor of Lester's text, highlighting instead the abstract and, in the case of her depiction of Adam and Chavah, the sensual aspects of the tales. Although Lester's portrait of God as polymorphous and not always all-knowing may offend some, those readers able to adopt his attitude of playful engagement with the sacred will find much to entertain, much to amuse and much to challenge them in their thinking about faith and God. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)