REVIEWED BY: Wayne S. Walker, reviewer with Stories for Children Magazine
Nachshon, along with the rest of his family and all the Israelites, is a slave in Egypt. His parents, grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents have been slaves, and he is afraid that he may be a slave for his whole life, too. However, Nachshon remembers the stories of how long ago his ancestors had been free, and he dreams of freedom every night. Nachshon's father and brothers make straw and mud into bricks in the hot sun, but Nachshon slips past the taskmasters to bring them cool drinking water. He also spies on Pharaoh and his royal courtiers to give reports to the Israelite elders. Everyone begins calling him "Brave Nachshon." But Nachshon does have one fear: When the other slaves take a cool dip in the Nile River each evening, he is afraid of water.
One day, a stranger named Moses comes and promises the Israelites freedom. That evening, when the slaves jump in the river, Moses sees Nachshon's hesitation and says, "Real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them." Many people can tell the story from here. Moses calls on Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. At first the king refuses, but after ten terrible plagues, he finally agrees, and the Israelites march to the Sea of Reeds. Looking back, they see the armies of Pharaoh chasing them. When Moses tells them to march forward into the sea, what will Nachshon, who is still afraid to swim, do?
According to a note by author Deborah Bodin Cohen, the Torah includes only brief references to Nachshon ben Aminadav who was a leader in the tribe of Judah (Naashon or Nahshon in English bibles; see Numbers 1:7). However, in the Midrash or Rabbinic lore, his story is more fully developed as an example of faith and courage. Jewish parents will certainly find this book useful for their children, especially during the Passover season. But any parent who would like a good book to accompany their children's study of the scriptural story of the Israelites' exodus from Egyptian bondage should like it as well. The attention-grabbing illustrations of Jago and the lesson of working to overcome fear help make Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim stand out as a book that children will truly enjoy.