Name of Book: Stories from the Bible: Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors
Author: Kathryn Smith
Illustrator: Stuart Trotter
Publisher: Parragon Publishing
Audience: According to the illustrations and simple language, it would appear as though this book is intended for children ages 4-8. However, the story of Joseph from the Bible, no matter how it is told, is never really appropriate for young children. I may recommend this book for junior or senior high youth to read along with the original text from Genesis, so they can make their own critique of the similarities and differences between the two stories.
Summary: Using simple words and colorful illustrations, this book is a retelling of the story of Joseph from Genesis 37, 39-47. It follows the story of Joseph from receiving the coat of many colors from his father, Jacob, to being reunited with his brothers in the end. In the beginning, Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him and they sell him into slavery where Joseph is committed to remaining faithful to God by working hard for his master, Potiphar. However, Potiphar’s wife wants Joseph to do all sorts of wicked things, but he refuses, so she has him thrown in prison. While in prison, Joseph is able to correctly intrepret prisoners’ dreams and his reputation of being a dream-teller reaches the Pharaoh, who also has a dream. Joseph is able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream correctly, so he is released from prison and promoted to be the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. For seven years, Joseph works hard to save grain so that Egypt and the surrounding region will have enough food for the famine which was foretold in the Pharaoh’s dream. When the famine comes, Joseph’s brothers come in search for food, but they do not recognize Joseph when they see him. Joseph tests his brothers to see if their hearts have been changed and when the brothers pass the test, Joseph reveals himself to them. Hugs are exchanged and they all live happily ever after.
Literary elements at work in the story: Written in the third person and set primarily in ancient Egypt, this book is a faith story from the Bible retold for children. The book is colorfully illustrated using what it appears to be water colors for light hues which cover each page. Each illustration is cartoon-like and some illustrations are large enough to spread over both pages of the open book. The text of each page is nicely displayed around each illustration, so they do not get lost in the illustration. Often times the shape of the text is blended into the illustration. Following the ups and downs of Joseph’s life, this book reminds readers to trust in God and remain faithful to him no matter what life’s circumstances may bring. Through Joseph’s faithfulness and commitment to God, Joseph is reunited with his family and everyone lives happily ever after in the end. Although not everyone gets to live happily ever after in real life. This story can send a confusing message to young children, which is why I believe it is more suitable for older ones.
(How) does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Although Joseph is a foreign slave in Egypt, he is able to become the right-hand man of the Pharaoh by working hard, do what is right, and trusting in God. As an oppressed character, Joseph’s story can offer inspiration and hope to others facing oppression.
Theological conversation partners (scripture, confessions, doctrines, theologians, etc): Comparing this book with the actual story of Joseph in Genesis, it is apparent that the author made several changes to make the story more appropriate for children. Smith left out Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce Joseph. And, while Smith tells of Joseph interpreting the dreams of prisoners, she only tells of the cupbearer who will be released from prison and restored to his office. She does not tell the story of the chief baker’s dream, which Joseph interprets as the baker’s death. While the overall story is a sugar-coated version of the biblical text, it is a good introduction to children of the biblical story. It is well illustrated and remains true to the theological theme of trusting God in all circumstances.
Faith Talk Questions
- Have you been jealous of your brothers or sisters? What made you jealous and how did you feel?
- How do you think Joseph felt when his brother’s betrayed him and sold him into slavery?
- When Joseph was a slave, he felt scared and alone, but he committed himself to working hard. When have you felt scared or alone? What are some things that you can do to feel brave like Joseph when you feel that way?
- If you were Joseph, what would you have done when you saw your brothers? Would you have been able to forgive them like Joseph did? What does this story teach us about forgiveness?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Amanda North.