Chronicle Books, 2002
As we’ve mentioned before, “the Noah problem” has become shorthand around Aslan’s Library for an all-too-common pitfall in Christian kidlit: Bible story books that completely miss the point. It’s pretty difficult to find a flood-story picture book that echoes the gravity of the biblical narrative. (After all: this is a story about the near-annihilation of the human race!) So, honestly, I didn’t expect we’d ever review a picture book on this one. Some stories just live best in the Bible.
But I was browsing at the library a week or so ago, and came across two versions that merited a second look. The first, a Caldecott-winner by Peter Spier, is a wordless retelling; overall, I liked it. His art is great fun to look at (if you don’t have a copy of People, it’s worth tracking down) and really engaging. But the book that earns a spot on the shelf at Aslan’s Library is Jerry Pinkney’s Noah’s Ark (a Caldecott Honor book).
While I liked both volumes, one thing in particular won me to Pinkney’s book: its beautiful portrayal of how God shelters creation on a wooden ark even as he wipes it away everywhere else. The gorgeous illustrations are accompanied by a simple retelling. Combined, they evoke God’s delivering work throughout Scripture: a faithful human (or group of humans) is entrusted with the care and husbanding of creation, the preservation of God’s good work, even in the midst of destruction and judgment.
Here is is Noah, calling the animals and caring for them on the ark. Later in Scripture we see the Israelites forming a new community, complete with laws about their neighbors’ oxen, out in the desert; the exiled Jews sitting on the banks of the river in Babylon and singing songs of the land they hope to farm once again; Jesus, feeding his friends on the night before his death and the morning of their post-resurrection meeting. The massive scope of God’s rescue of creation lives side by side, in Scripture, with the call for humans to care for it in the most mundane ways: feeding animals, tilling the earth, feeding each other.
Of course, none of this is explicit in Noah’s Ark. It is simply a beautiful account that manages to capture a theme running all through Scripture. The story of the flood, after all, is a story of judgment and renewal; it’s a story of one man shepherding God’s creation through destruction, and God’s covenant with him to continue that trust for all time. Noah’s Ark is a picture book that gets the story right, and with beauty to spare.