1. Archive

Journeys of the spirit

Here are three titles that deal with remarkable spiritual journeys, but in strikingly different settings:

Ages 5-up: Harriet and the Promised Land, by Jacob Lawrence, Simon and Schuster, $15.

From these stunningly original paintings and a mere 90 lines of verse, I learned more about Harriet Tubman than from any biography. The heroism of her exploits is perfectly rendered by a sense of dramatic movement and a stark, daring use of color. Lawrence likens Tubman's helping escaped slaves to Moses' leading the Israelites from Egypt. As the biblical story inspired Harriet, perhaps this tale will inspire future leaders on their own journeys.

Ages 8-up: The Passover Journey: A Seder Companion, by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Neil Waldman, Viking, $15.99.

Four times the Bible commands parents to share the Passover story with their children. Alluding to these passages, Goldin discusses four types of children: the wise child, the wicked child, the innocent child and the child who does not even know how to ask a question. This book tries to reach all four.

At 56 pages, it is comprehensive enough for the child seeking knowledge, as well as for the non-Jewish adult. The first half retells the Exodus story; the second relates Exodus to the Seder and details the 14 steps of the tradition. In addition, there are references to the other Egypts, the "narrow places" where Jews have been enslaved, such as the Warsaw ghetto and the Soviet Union. (Rather than describe the Holocaust, the sensitive suggestion is made to ask Seder guests who lived through it to tell their stories.)

Waldman's beautiful creations, featuring finely textured pastel washes, will help to draw in those readers who may not wish to ask about the tradition, or who may not know how.

Ages 10-14: Mr. Tucket, by Gary Paulsen, Delacorte Press, $14.95.

This book is nothing new from Gary Paulsen, one of our most prolific young adult authors. He returns to one of his favorite settings, the Wild West, and one of his favorite themes, a boy coming to manhood with the help of an eccentric male figure. But Paulsen is at his best working in these comfortable milieus.

Fourteen-year-old Francis Tucket, kidnapped by Pawnee Indians from his family's wagon train, teams up with a one-armed mountain man named Grimes, who teaches him to hunt deer, skin beaver and shoot a rifle. The Indians he encounters are neither stereotyped nor romanticized, but are complex people who pose a legitimate threat to his survival. In the end, Francis must choose between Grimes' violent way of life and the ethics of his family.

Thus a standard adventure story, with echoes of American classics from The Deerslayer to Shane to Dances with Wolves, is transformed to a morality tale. Francis' moral quandary would have been heightened if more time had been spent on his upbringing and family ties, but that would have slowed the pace. And a Paulsen book is primarily a page-turner. Look for no fancy prose tricks, no philosophical ruminations here _ just a gripping yarn told simply and well.

Michael Maschinot's children's column appears monthly.