Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1938

Animals of the Bible

Dorothy P. Lathrop, illustrator

Helen Dean Fish, editor

Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937

66p

Age: 3+ (give or take… see notes below)

Interests: bible, animals, religion

The first recipient of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, Animals of the Bible is a simple collection of bible verses having to do with animals. It serves the purpose of introducing children to the bible, thankfully free of the more plodding and didactic methods sometimes used. There is no ‘teacher’, no one ‘explaining’ each bible story, the verses simply stand alone. This in itself was probably pretty refreshing at that time. The reader is allowed the freedom of reading the King James text and taking from it what she will. Nothing is spared, even the alarming tale of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son is included. (The editing decisions are a little odd however, as in this case Helen Dean Fish chose not to include the prior scene in which God asks for the sacrifice. Which makes it seem like Abraham has come up with the idea all by himself.) In the Old Testament of course there is a lot of smiting and slaying, so parental discretion is advised. There are all the familiar stories as well as some lesser-known passages; I had never heard of the origin of the ‘scapegoat.’ (Leviticus 16:8-10, 21, 22)

The illustrations are black and white drawings, gracefully stylized with a decidedly art deco look – Eve resembles an Erte glamour girl, minus the threads of course. (Nudity alert: breasts are exposed!) The verse about the Behemoth in Job is accompanied by a lovely drawing of a hippopotamus with water and plants swirling about him. It certainly softens the effect of the verse which is rather frightening.

Unfortunately however, it appears that the original drawings were very lightly rendered, and as a result the picture quality in the edition I looked at (1965) was embarrassingly bad. Kind of like looking at photocopies of photocopies of photocopies of pencil sketches.

Since the text is direct from the Bible, opinions may vary on what age this is appropriate for. With explanation, even the youngest can follow the stories, although – being the Bible – some may be too upsetting, ie. Abraham raising his knife to slay his own son. This might simply be a nice reference work for the reading child to discover and peruse on her/his own. It certainly is a good way to introduce children to different, more poetic ways of speech; providing a challenge to make sense of unfamiliar language forms.

(This title at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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