The story of Purim as told in the Megillah is complex and contains violence and adult situations. The Story of Esther, by Eric Kimmel (available through PJ Library!) is a child-friendly retelling of the tale.
Here is a summary of the key points of Megillat Esther (adult themes included):
King Achashveyrosh, the ruler of Persia, hosts a 6-month-long party. He invites his Queen, Vashti, to attend, “wearing her royal crown” (and only her crown!), so he can show off her renowned beauty to his guests. Vashti refuses. The King’s advisors tell him that if he allows her to get away with refusing, the other wives in the kingdom might get the idea they don’t need to obey their husbands. As a result, the King exiles Vashti (or has her executed, depending on your preferred interpretation of the text). After the party is finally over, Achashveyrosh finds he is lonely. His advisors counsel that he should find himself a new Queen.
A proclamation is sent out that all eligible maidens are to come to the capital of Persia, Shushan, so that the King can choose a new Queen. We are introduced to Mordechai and his niece Hadassah, who is also called Esther (She has both a Hebrew name and a Persian one, much like how many American Jewish children have both Hebrew and English names). Mordechai tells Esther to go to Shushan as a candidate for Queen, and advises her to hide that she is Jewish. Esther’s beauty, kindness, and intelligence leads her to being a favored candidate, and eventually the King chooses her as Queen. Mordechai sits in the gateway of Shushan so that he can hear news about Esther. While there, he overhears two royal guards plotting to murder the King. He informs Esther, who tells Achashveyrosh, and the guards are executed.
Achashveyrosh appoints Haman as his new prime minister (aka chief advisor). Haman’s new authority goes to his head, and starts ordering citizens to bow to him (as if they were worshipping a god). Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, telling him that Jews only bow to God. Haman becomes enraged, and plots to kill not just Mordechai, but all the Jews of Persia. Haman lies to King Achashveyrosh in order to convince the King to give him the authority to annihilate the Jews. The King gives Haman his signet ring, which gives Haman the ability to write proclamations in the name of the King. Haman sends out a royal edict, that the citizens of Persia are to kill their Jewish neighbors and take their land and possessions.
Mordechai hears of the edict and goes into public mourning, tearing his clothes and sitting in ashes. The palace guards see him and inform Esther. She comes to see her uncle, and he tells her what Haman has done. Mordechai asks Esther to intercede with the King. Esther responds that to approach the King without being summoned is to risk being executed. Esther tells Mordechai to ask the Jews of Persia to fast and pray for three days before she will approach the King.
Esther approaches the King, and Achashveyrosh calls her to him, and says he will grant any request she has. Esther has a plan, and invites the King and Haman to a banquet. The King asks Esther what she wants, he will grant it, and she invites him and Haman to a second banquet the next evening. Haman runs into Mordechai on his way home, who refuses to bow, and Haman vows to return to the King that very night to ask to be allowed to execute Mordechai.
That night, the King cannot sleep and asks his servants to read to him from the book of chronicles. He reviews the story of how Mordechai saved his life from the guards who plotted against him, but learns that Mordechai was never rewarded. The King is considering what he should do about this, when Haman enters. Before Haman can speak, King Achashveyrosh asks him what he would do to honor someone deserving of high praise and thanks. Haman thinks the King is looking to honor him, and tells the King that the man should be dressed in the King’s own robes, given a crown, and paraded through the streets on a horse with a royal advisor shouting praises about the man to the crowd. The King likes this idea very much, and instructs Haman to do exactly this for Mordechai. (Obviously, Haman is less than pleased.)
At her second banquet, Esther reveals that she is Jewish, and tells King Achashveyrosh that she and her people are to be murdered by order of a royal proclamation. The King is shocked, and asked who would do such a thing? Esther identifies Haman as the culprit. The King is so enraged that his chief advisor would trick him, that he leaves the room to collect himself. Haman throws himself at Esther to beg forgiveness. The King re-enters the room to find Haman hanging onto Esther’s lap. The King accuses Haman of not only deceiving him, but also assaulting the Queen, and has Haman, and his entire family, executed.
Mordechai is named the new prime minister, and receives all of Haman’s property. The original royal edict cannot be canceled, but a second one is circulated, empowering the Jews to fight back, and allowing them to kill anyone who attacks them. This signals to most of the citizens that they should not follow the instructions of the first edict, but there are still a few Jew-haters who will follow through with it.
On the 13th of Adar, the Jews are victorious against their enemies. The rest of Haman’s family is executed. The 14th and 15th of Adar are designated as holidays to celebrate the victory and survival of the Jewish people. Mordechai sets down the practices of Purim, including a festive meal, the exchanging of gifts of food, and the giving of gifts to the poor.