Cover image for When the beginning began : stories about God, the creatures, and us
When the beginning began : stories about God, the creatures, and us
Lester, Julius.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Diego : Silver Whistle, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 100 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
A collection of traditional and original Jewish tales interpreting the Biblical story of the creation of the world.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.8 3.0 46197.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BS651 .L365 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



"This book is astonishing, daring, compelling, and confirms Lester's preeminence among storytellers."--Jane Yolen

If we weren't there, how can we really know how the world began? Could it be that God even made a mistake or two when creating the world? Using Jewish legend and his own translations from the Book of Genesis, master storyteller Julius Lester has created a collection of Bible stories like no other. Written especially for readers who might not make their way to the stories of the Bible otherwise, these tales are a welcome opening to a glorious world that will touch the spirit of all readers--no matter what religion guides them.

Author Notes

Julius Bernard Lester was born in St. Louis, Missouri on January 27, 1939. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Fisk University in 1960. He moved to New York to become a folk singer. He performed on the coffeehouse circuit as a singer and guitarist. He released two albums entitled Julius Lester in 1965 and Departures in 1967. His first published book, The Folksinger's Guide to the 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly written with Pete Seeger, was published in 1965.

In the 1960s, Lester was closely involved as a writer and photographer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He traveled to the South to document the civil rights movement and to North Vietnam to photograph the effects of American bombardment. He also hosted radio and television talk shows in New York City.

He wrote more than four dozen nonfiction and fiction books for adults and children. His books for adults included Look Out, Whitey!: Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama, Revolutionary Notes, All Is Well, Lovesong: Becoming a Jew, and The Autobiography of God. His children's books included To Be a Slave, Sam and the Tigers, and Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, which won the American Library Association's Coretta Scott King Award in 2006. He also wrote reviews and essays for numerous publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, Dissent, The New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

After teaching for two years at the New School for Social Research in New York, Lester joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1971. He originally taught in the Afro-American studies department, but transferred to the Judaic and Near Eastern studies department when Lester criticized the novelist James Baldwin for what he felt were anti-Semitic remarks. He died from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on January 18, 2018 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Working in the tradition of midrashim, or explorations of biblical texts, through the use of imagination and story, Lester (What a Truly Cool World) crafts a humorous, deeply personal and irreverent interpretation of the book of Genesis. His tales attempt to answer some of the questions unanswered by the biblical textÄWhy did God stop what He was doing to create the world? How did the angels feel about it? Just why did that Snake tempt Woman to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?Äin order to lead readers "into a new experience of the Divine." The quotations from Genesis that open many of the 17 chapters (translated from the Hebrew by Lester) provide a framework from which the author riffs and improvises with abandon, throwing in a few pourquoi tales, an epic battle, God's ruminations about the process of creation and a lot of colloquial language and imagery (references to the Internet, business trips and peanut butter, to name just a few)Äcreating a delicious pastiche of retelling in the process. Lisker's folk-art oil paintings (one per chapter) lack the humor of Lester's text, highlighting instead the abstract and, in the case of her depiction of Adam and Chavah, the sensual aspects of the tales. Although Lester's portrait of God as polymorphous and not always all-knowing may offend some, those readers able to adopt his attitude of playful engagement with the sacred will find much to entertain, much to amuse and much to challenge them in their thinking about faith and God. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8-The continuing practice of midrash Aggadah-unrestrained narrative reflection on canonical Torah-is evidence of a living faith. Fundamentalist Christians may well be shocked by the liberties Lester takes with the God of Genesis: at various times he/she is black, female, embarrassed, uncertain, and wrong. But the point of these surprises is to make readers think afresh about the familiar stories. The reworkings stress the importance of gratitude for what we have, the role of error in the divine plan, the playfulness of creativity, the universality of human weakness, and the limitlessness of divine love. Adam's first mate, Lilith (the woman God makes from clay, in Genesis B), walks out when Adam refuses to compromise; God decides that women will have to be smarter than men. Elements from Jewish lore-the Re'em, Shamir, Ziz, Tehom, the importance of Torah-coexist with an angel called Moe the Angel of Bagels (but the cuteness quotient is tolerable). Satan is distinct from the Edenic Snake. The chapters on the Fall by themselves are worth the price of admission. In keeping with Jewish tradition, sin does not lie in disobedience but in the failure to accept responsibility; sexuality is a divine gift, a consolation for exile. In these later chapters, Lester's midrash is especially rich and thought-provoking. Lisker provides a full-page oil painting to accompany each entry; her images are as inventive and vibrant as the stories she illustrates. The source notes and bibliography are helpful.-Patricia Lothrop-Green, St. George's School, Newport, RI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.