Noah’s Ark

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1978

Noah’s Ark

by Peter Spier

Doubleday, 1977

46 pp.

Age: 5+

Interests: bible stories, animals, boats, wordless books, religion, God

Also by this author/illustrator: People, Circus, The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, London Bridge is Falling Down, Christmas!

A (nearly) wordless picture book about Noah, his animals and his ark. This follows the bible story from the building of the boat, through the animal boarding, long days and nights at sea, to the final joyous emergence into sunshine and greenery.

A fascinatingly detailed book, one which finally addresses the massive scale and logistics of the thing. No punches are pulled here, but it helps that the following scenes are presented rather dispassionately and at a distance:

1. the first illustration shows a burning city, marching army, and the corpses of men and cattle in the fields

2. when the animals crowd around the ark Noah is very strict about only allowing two of each, and the abandoned animals are seen sitting rather pathetically in the rain as the waters rise

3. the waters lift the boat and we see city buildings submerged (but no casualties in view here)

At the beginning of the book there is one page with the story told in short couplets, written in the 1600’s by Jacobus Revius:

…Creatures all, Large and small,

Good and mean, Foul and clean,

Fierce and tame, In they came…

And:

But the rest, Worst and best,

Stayed on shore, Were no more.

That whole host Gave the ghost.

They were killed For the guilt

Which brought all To the fall.

That kind of thing – definitely in the style of the time. You can choose to read it or not. Now back to the boat…

The illustrations are so densely composed and marvellously detailed that they deserve to be studied at length. The difficulties in caring for such a menagerie are included, with a scene of Noah himself mucking the place out. (Piles of dung are seen throughout, shovelled into the corners or onto the deck.) The chaos and mess of the boat, and the humanity of Noah’s situation is what I liked the best… straining to pull a stubborn mule up the ramp, turning away a swarm of flies (after taking in exactly two), sitting late at night staring wearily into space, pacing the deck as he waits for the dove to return. This moment is the most rewarding, as Noah practically skips down below to show the olive branch to the animals, allowing them to sniff it over before he presents it to the cow to munch on. As the waters recede the animals exit happily, and we see a final view of the ark’s abandoned interior as the very last snails slither out into the sunshine.

As there are no words after the couplets at the beginning, the parent reader can supply whatever commentary they wish to, or the child can simply pore over the book on his/her own.

Wonderful illustrations make this a thoughtful and humorous take on the familiar bible story.

(This title on 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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