Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the first woman ordained a rabbi in Reconstructionist Judaism, is the imaginative and soulful author of more than a dozen books for children, including favorites like God's Paintbrush, God in Between, A Prayer for the Earth, and Creation's First Light. Her ability to tap into the connections between heaven and earth make her stories wondrous and memorable.
Sasso's latest creation, When God Gave Us Words, takes us behind the scenes to God's conversations with angels about the possibility of giving humans the gift of words. The angels, represented as colorful, radiant spirals of light, doubt the sagacity of this plan. "People will just mess them up," they point out.
But God remains intent on hearing what people will do with this gift, and proceeds to hand down words. They arrive in sacks, one of this story's delicious and fanciful twists. On our favorite page spread, God stuffs a sack full of long, difficult words like "omniscient" and "antidisestablishmentarianism," because of which dictionaries have to be created. Children take pride in being able to say exactly these kinds of complicated words, something Sasso clearly understands.
When all the sacks are ready, the angels spread the words and sit down with God to listen. You can imagine the range of things people do with the words! Let's just say that some of them, like mixing the words with sharp thorns and thus giving birth to gossip, do not speak for the best in human nature. Even God is about to give up on this experiment when a new sound comes through: "People stirred music into words and sang lullabies." From poetry to prayers this welcome lyricism continues, until even the angels start to see the point in the venture.
The illustrations by Darcy Day Zoells are set in mythical forests, pastures, and by the seaside and do much to enhance the story. When the people, of many colors, are walking, talking, arguing, or telling stories, you can see the angels between tree trunks or on hillsides listening in. The pictures, like Sasso's words, leave an impression of realms inexplicably mingled in which humans play a particularly complex and fascinating part.