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Lisbeth Zwerger,1997.
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Noah's Ark ad. by Heinz Janisch; illus. by Lisbeth Zwerger , 1997. 30p
Library ed. ISBN 1-55858-785-3$16.88  
Trade ed. ISBN 1-55858-784-5$16.95

The story of Noah's Ark has been retold countless times in countless ways. It is one of those mystical tales with an awesomely cosmic element: God's chosen man given the sweeping task of surviving impending universal devastation. This faithful retelling for children eschews the warm and fuzzy feelings of some past renditions and allows readers glimpses into the cold reality of a doomed world: "I will destroy them all," says God, "and cleanse the world of evil. Every living thing shall perish." This is serious stuff, and Janisch never pretends otherwise.

Zwerger's restrained artistic tone complements Janisch's almost matter-of-fact text. The graceful, spare illustrations give a powerful sense of antediluvian place and time where unicorns, giants, and satyrs once co-inhabited the earth with man and beast. As they wander by the shipbuilding site, one cannot help but ponder their destiny. A particularly haunting pre-flood spread opens the book, showing smoking towers dotting a barren landscape littered with weapons and bones while storks hover overhead; the facing page seems to give heaven's viewpoint, peering down at Noah's family who stand huddled together like homeless refugees. Noah, looking like an old European grandpapa, receives his divine mission as his family surrounds him in a show of solidarity. Zwerger's rendering of this solitary little group gazing heavenward serves to emphasize the gravity of the situation and their singular involvement in it, as God tells them, "But with you I will make a covenant. You will survive. With you life will begin again after the flood."

"From all corners of the earth the animals streamed into the ark, and there was room for all of them." Laudably, there is an absence of cuteness here. Animal duos are often presented in a diagram style reminiscent of early bestiaries, which is especially suited to the continental mood established throughout the book. Other animal pairs are portrayed decorously proceeding toward the ark. They too seem charged by a sense of the import of Noah's commission as they steadfastly beat a path to Noah's great naval wonder. Foggy grays and earthtones serve a subtle role as background for the deep pigment of the orange-red ark. The artist uses this contrast to great advantage, as the brilliant color emphasizes the ark's redemptive role. The ship eerily casts its pale red reflection in the falling rain while umbrella-laden citizens rush by. The question begging an answer is, where are they rushing to?

Scenes where desperate citizens cling to rooftops powerfully depict the horror of being left behind. One affecting spread shows the ark above water with occupants safely aboard ("But they had many, many days to wait, floating abovethe flooded world. It seemed the rain would never stop"), while below sea creatures enjoy a swim through the windows of empty buildings. The human tragedy is stark and palpable.

Finally, "Noah opened the great door of the ark, and the animals streamed out. And Noah left the ark with his wife, his sons, and his sons' wives. God blessed them, and said: 'Never again will I make a great flood to cover the whole earth. The seasons will return: seedtime and harvest, summer and winter.'" As the released animals hurry to their future and the more ecstatic ones leap upon the dry hills, the biblical absoluteness of this story reaches its climax. The jubilance of the saved is especially potent following closely after such all-encompassing loss. This is an extraordinary Noah's Ark: so somber, so beautiful, so clever, so worth sharing. Do.

Pat Matthews, Reviewer

Big Picture Image
December's Bulletin cover illustration
by Lisbeth Zwerger from
Noah's Ark,
Copyright 1997. Used by
permission of North-South

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This page was last updated on December 1, 1997.