The Longest Night, subtitled A Passover Story, is a picture book version of the Biblical history of the exodus from Egypt. The story is told in rhyme from the point of view of a Jewish slave child who “built someone else a home” but “never tried to play,” wondering as she looked up into the sky after a long day of work “if the air tasted fresh and sweet up there.”
Life unraveled, rearranged.”
The story continues as the narrator tells us of the Biblical plagues from her childlike vantage point: water turning to blood, frogs and fleas, wolves(?), sickness among the herds of animals, hail and locusts. Not once does the child who is telling the story mention Moses or Aaron or God. In one line she does say, “I sat, too, and said a prayer.” Then, the longest night comes, and the saddest sound, the death of the firstborn, never spelled out in words in this story, but implied in the “cries like knives that split the dark.”
As in the Book of Esther in the Bible, God is never named or invoked (except in that brief reference to prayer) or, for that matter, held responsible for the calamities that come or the freedom that ensues. Perhaps this opacity and near-absence of any over-arching meaning reflects how the events would have played out in the mind of a child, but I tend to think that Hebrew parents would have told their children why all these plagues were coming and reminded them of God’s promises and eventually told them whom to thank for their deliverance.
It’s a beautiful book. The illustrations by Catia Chien are colorful and childlike, but with a heaviness and gloom that extends throughout the book until the final pages break out in song and smiles and pink glowing light in the pictures. Jewish and Christian families should enjoy this simple story, despite the questions left unanswered in the text, and use it as a springboard for further conversation about the meaning of the Exodus, the Passover story, and the freedom that God provides us in Christ.
Sometimes God works everyday miracles or even huge inexplicable wonders in our own lives, but we fail to see His hand at work until someone points to Him. Before or after reading this book with a child, someone needs to point.