Written and Illustrated by Peter Spier
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 1977
Awards: Caldecott Medal (1978)
High and long,
Thick and strong,
Wide and stark
Was the ark.
The plot in a nutshell: Noah builds an ark that saves his family and two of each animal species
Noah and his family build an ark and load it with supplies. The animals gather outside and he loads them in, one pair per species. All the other animals stand outside the ark as the rain starts to fall and the ark sails away from them. Soon there is nothing but water. Noah and his family care for the animals and makes sure they don’t harm each other. The animals multiply and the ark is overrun with animals. Below the ark, the sea creatures are thriving and Noah catches fish to feed his animals and family. Finally they come to rest on a mountain top and Noah sends out a series of birds. The third bird returns with an olive branch, showing that the water is receding. Noah’s family is overjoyed and they disembark to start life in the new world. The snails are the last to go and the ark, now ridiculously filthy, is empty.
The story of Noah’s Ark is probably one of the most well-known stories from the Bible, or at least one of the first ones that children learn in Sunday School. Author/illustrator Peter Spier tells the story upfront in a one page translation of a poem called The Flood, originally written by Dutch poet Jacobus Revius. The poem has 60 lines and, as in the example above, each line is only three syllables. This page features the only text in the book, as the rest of the story is told entirely through pictures.
Both the artwork and the book’s layout has a very comic book feel to it, with some pages having multiple story panels and some having only one. There are some comical moments in the story and some somber moments as well, including one really heartbreaking series of pictures of the animals that were turned away from the ark (after two of their kind had been accepted). They have no choice but to stand there, doomed, and watch as the flood rises. Mostly the pictures examine the details of life in the ark, addressing issues of how Noah managed to deal with the different species on board. In the final pictures, we get to see the empty ark after all the animals have left and clearly, this is a cleanup job no one would want. Overall, I enjoyed reading this one and would recommend it for anyone who has ever thought about the logistics of this story.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that I would never want to manage that many animals. I’m grateful to be able to give all my love and affection to just one dog.