Cheryl F. Coon is the author of Books to Grow With: A Guide to the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges. Cheryl lives with her husband and children in Portland, Ore.
Picture This: A Children's Book with a Message of Interfaith Healing
Review of The Cave of Reconciliation: An Abrahamic/Ibrahimic Tale, as retold by Pecki Sherman Witonsky, illustrated by Katie Scott (Diamond Rock Press, 2006).
The moment I opened this picture book, I fell in love. Perhaps it was the prospect of another telling of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, one of the most thought-provoking stories among biblical tales. I'm certain that the unique and utterly charming mixed media illustrations accompanying the story drew me in. Using felt, cloth, and other found materials, and combining them with pastels and watercolors, the illustrator offers what seems at first to be a child's pictorial view of the story. The illustrations seem simple, but on closer inspection they offer a myriad of detail. More than one reader may be inspired to try to create his or her own illustrations using similar materials!
The story is told twice, from both the Jewish and Muslim perspectives. Maybe it was the child in me, but I found this double-telling very charming, especially when accomplished by the old-fashioned low-tech method of flipping the book over and reading the story from the other direction. I'd like to think that above all, what attracted me was the opportunity to better understand what Jews and Muslims hold in common. Author Pecki Sherman Witonsky says that her idea for the book came from the coincidence of a dream, the Jewish holidays, the events of 9/11 and a conversation with a Muslim friend. Above all, she was searching for a way to tell the story of our common heritage as a means of healing.
As told here, we learn that in Jewish tradition, Abraham offers his son Isaac for sacrifice; in the Muslim tradition, it is his other son, Ishmael, whom he offers. In both versions, Abraham's inspiration is his willingness to follow the voice of God, no matter what he is told to do. In both stories, the descendents of these two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, are important leaders. Indeed, in the Muslim tradition, Ishmael is known as the "Father of the Arabs" and the founder of the Quraysh tribal line which, 2,500 years later, would include Muhammad.
Where the stories diverge, aside from the son who is to be sacrificed, is in the emphasis on important places and events in Muslim and Jewish history. Using different names, in the Muslim story, Allah tells Ibrahim (Abraham) to take Hajar (Hagar) and Ismail (Ishmael) south, where they would be resettled in a new land. After Ibrahim leaves Hajar and Ismail and returns to Canaan, Hajar and Ismail run out of water. Allah sends the angel Gabriel, who brings forth water from the earth by pushing his heel into the sandy soil. The place where the water gushes forth is known today as Mecca. In the Jewish story, we learn that an angel brought water to Hagar and reminded her of God's promise… that Ishmael would be known as a great bow-man and would father a great nation (Genesis. 21:19).
Whatever first lured me in, the book fulfilled all that it promised. Within the book, there are maps, family trees and a glossary of names to help the reader follow the stories. The illustrations lead you in; the story captivates; and the similarities between the Muslim and Jewish versions are intriguing. Suitable to either be read aloud to younger children and/or enjoyed by children who are advanced readers, The Cave of Reconciliation will be an excellent resource for interfaith families interested in better understanding the common origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.