I've yet to find the "perfect" picture book version of Noah and the Great Flood, but Peter Spier's Noah's Ark certainly has some unique qualities - and a Caldecott Medal - to recommend it.
As the author and illustrator of more than thirty picture books, Spier has a unique style of illustration, and he uses it - and nearly it alone - to retell the popular Bible story of Noah. The first two-page spread shows an ancient city burning, with soldiers marching through the countryside. But nearby, Noah is planting a vineyard. "...But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord," Spier writes. Next, a simple poem about the Flood (written by a 17th century poet) is quoted beside an illustration of Noah and his family working to load the ark.
From this point on, the book features no text - just illustrations. Some take up an entire two page spread, but many pages have multiple scenes on them. We see Noah loading up the animals, shooing away extra pairs who wish to board. We see him close the ark as the rain begins to fall, while many animals stand outside, still hoping to enter the big boat. We the see water cover everything and Noah feed and care for the animals inside his ark. We see him fish off the side of the ark, and sit gloomily in the dark, apparently wishing the flood waters would recede. We see him send out birds repeatedly, until a dove finally returns with an olive branch. We see Noah and his wife embrace because of what this branch means, and we see animals eagerly trying to chew the leaves up. At last the waters recede, and Noah releases the animals. And we see what a mess they've left behind in the ark. On the last two page spread, we see Noah and his family working the land, and Spier writes: "...and he planted a vineyard."
What I Like: Children of nearly any age love examining Spier's detailed illustrations, and there are many fun things to think about in this book. (For example, readers might notice that some animals - like the rabbits - multiplied quickly on the ark.)
What I Dislike: The biblical substance of the story is missing in this book. We don't learn why Noah built the ark, nor do we see God's hand in the story - anywhere. Although the last page shows a rainbow in the sky, we don't learn why the rainbow is there or what it means.
Overall Rating: This is not the best book to introduce your children to the story of Noah and the Great Flood, but it's a nice supplemental book that can keep your child busy for long periods, helping them think about what it might have been like to be on the ark. Therefore, I give it a "Very Good" rating.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 to 8, but toddlers and slightly older kids will enjoy it, too.
Publisher Info: Dragonfly Books, 1992; ISBN: 0440406935; paperback; $7.99