A Bible Story for the Kids

I am Joseph coverI Am Joseph

Submitter: I am a fan of Barbara Cohen, author of such classics as The Carp in the Bathtub and Molly’s Pilgrim, but this is not an appropriate picture book for children! The complex sentence structure! The language! The illustrations! Who thought this was a good idea?! I have nothing against retelling Bible stories as children’s books, but there must be cleaner versions of Joseph’s story! This one reads like a romance novel!

Some of my favorite excerpts:

Judah, to his brothers, about what to do with Joseph after they’ve tied him up and thrown him naked into a pit: “‘If we leave our brother here to die, it’s the same as if we killed him with our own hands. Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, so that we’re not guilty of murder. For, after all, he is our brother, our own flesh.’ ‘Besides,’ Asher said, ‘if we sell him, there’s profit in it for us.’”

Joseph, describing his master’s wife: “He had a wife who was much younger than he, and very beautiful. She wore transparent dresses, like a prostitute, and heavy collars of gold around her neck … Her nearly naked body would brush against mine, and I could smell her musky perfume.”

The wife repeatedly propositions Joseph until finally: “She reached out her hand and grasped the knot by which my loincloth was held in place. ‘Lie with me, Joseph,’ she said yet again. She pulled at the knot, it came undone, and my loincloth was in her hand. Her eyes grew wide as she beheld my nakedness, but I, not sure of the strength of my own will, turned as quickly as I could and fled away from her.”

Holly: Bible meets 50 Shades? This was found in a nonsectarian private school library, but it is most definitely not elementary school material!

I am Joseph

I am Joseph excerpt

I am Joseph excerpt

Naked Joseph


  1. Oh, my. (And that first image of Joseph with something over his shoulder? I thought he was returning from a nice round of tennis.)

  2. It’s obviously NOT a children’s book, just because it is illustrated. I have one very similar that tells the story of Orpheus. I think it’s for weirdos like me, who still like fairy tales and picture books.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with that. And most fairy tails and picture books are made by adults, anyway.

  3. I can imagine Mommy or Daddy settling in for the bedtime read-aloud…”Well, she, um, yeah and then Joseph, er…”

  4. My understanding is, this title was an ALA Notable Children’s Book in 1980. Have a look at this 1993 obit of the illustrator, Charles Mikolaycak, which praises the “colorful, meticulously researched” illustrations for “I am Joseph:” http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-06-27/news/9306270168_1_mysterious-birds-illustrations-books

    The Library of Congress classifies “I am Joseph” as juvenile literature. So does at least one library in Ontario (not mine) which still holds the item. Both the author and the illustrator won multiple awards on other work.


      1. Sorry, folks, that should have read: “…Kirkus review that still doesn’t…”

  5. When I was in fifth grade, we produced a play version of the story of Joseph that was almost certainly based on this book (I distinctly remember the line, “lie with me, Joseph” got huge laughs from the audience). I never saw the illustrations, so far as I recall. Making it racy held our interest in what would otherwise have been very boring material. Kids can handle a lot more than adults think they can.

  6. As a (retired) school librarian, I might have ordered this book — and sent it right back as soon as I looked through it. My word! Who in the world would have thought this was appropriate for children?

  7. Apropos of Thursday’s book, Joseph shouldn’t dress so provocatively if he want’s Potiphar’s wife to stop propositioning him.

  8. First of all, LOVE that straight-out-of-Playgirl illustration of Joseph. Brilliant!

    Second, oh, how I wish the authors didn’t INSIST upon a scratch-and-sniff version
    of this book; only THEN could children – and adults! – TRULY appreciate that whole
    “musky perfume” line. What better education can our children ask for?

  9. This is a beautiful book that could merit a place in a design collection but it isn’t for children.
    You sometimes have to wonder what buyers or vendors are thinking. There was the gift catalogue that said Robert Sabuda’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ were suitable for ages 3 to 8.
    Eek! No one with half a brain would leave a child of that age alone with such a thing.

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