Subscribe to The Horn Book

Naamah and the Ark at Night

Holly Meade uses watercolor collage (which matches this story of water perfectly) to tell Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s lullaby story of Naamah, Noah’s wife.  We learn in her fascinating author’s note the mystery of her name and also about the ghazal, the poetic structure Bartoletti followed to write this poem. So, a story from the Old Testament  is interpreted in an Arabic poetic form. I like that. I like the Noah story because so many cultures and religions have a deluge story, making it nearly universal.



Let me give you a taste of the text:

“As rain falls over the ark at night,
As water swirls in the dark of night,
As thunder crashes the seams of night,
As Noah tosses in dreams of night,
As restless animals prowl at night,
As they pace and roar and growl at night,
Naamah sings all through the night.”

That is some lovely stuff.

Now, let’s look at these illustrations. Watercolor and scissors and ink come together to give the reader the feel of a little boat, rocked by storms and filled with pairs of animals. Noah is not the star here—he is snoring in bed while Naamah sings to the animals, lulling them to sleep. Meade changes up the spreads—some are full color, some are grey and white silhouettes, fully bled to the edges, showing the deep night. One, of the galaxy, is cut paper, watercolor and paint that looks like white-out.  Each animal, even the humans, is shown with its partner and care has been taken to differentiate between the female and male when appropriate (lions, humans).  The paper is cut with soft rounded cuts—not overly fussy, but with enough detail to make each animal completely recognizable. Naamah is nice and round herself…suggesting a well-fed grandma.

Here is a book that needs to be read aloud to be totally appreciated. Bartoletti’s poem, subtle and restrained, is the perfect precursor to sleep.

And, not to be too personal, I read this to my book group on Sunday night, and it got the “I-need-a-baby-shower-gift” seal of approval.

So, yes, this is a Bible story and any bit of religion may make some squeamish, but there have been quite a few Bible stories over the years that have caught the attention of the committee. The illustrations complement and extend the story with little redundancy and the lullaby is magical. Meade has won an honor before. Is it time for more recognition?

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. If I taught illustration, I’d use this as a case study for students in how an illustrator uses line to convey emotion and set a tone. I say yes to your final question.

  2. Martha P. says:

    Leonard Marcus’s latest Horn Book column is about tactile picture books. He says, “A picture book doesn’t have to offer its readers something to actually pat or touch in order to tap into their natural curiosity about the textures of things,” and cites Vera Williams’s More More More Said the Baby and Salley Mavor’s Pocketful of Posies as examples of books that attract the hand as well as the eye. Naamah is in that same category — I keep wanting to touch everything! from the title page with its almost 3D flamingoes on in. Actually, the sense of depth and the awareness of edges and the call of the textures even begins on the cover. The double-page spread of the ark tossing in the waves engages all my senses: I want to reach out and touch the torn paper plus it evokes a stormy sea with such immediacy I can hear the wind, smell the salt air, etc.

    Another thing that wows me in this book is the artist’s use of line (vertical, horizontal, diagonal). The spreads that depict the stormy present are ruled by them; the spreads of Naamah and the silhouetted animals before the starry skies (which I assume is the hopeful future Naamah calls up with her song) are practically (there is one exception) line free –all rounded eges and dotted light.

    My only reservation is the trajectory of the weather in the book — it seems unchangeably rainy until that last gorgeous spread of the calm ocean (and of course for the interludes in which, as I interpret them, Naamah is calling up clear skies…). Something in my linear self wanted a gradual cessation of the storm.

  3. KT Horning says:

    Um, Martha, you are questioning the plausibility of *weather* in Noah’s Ark?

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thanks, KT. I meant to grab my copy again to see what Martha was talking about and your comment nudged me. It still looks to me that there is still some rain in that last spread…

    But, more than that, I love reading what both Martha and Jules said about the lines. I did not review this one for any publication, which always slows my reading and forces me to look, look, and look again. I was so wowed by the cut paper that I didn’t pay as much attention to the lines as Martha and Jules did. . Of course, now I see them everywhere and that deepens my appreciation of the art. I especially like the non-rain straight lines: the birdcages, the actual wood of the ark and the various fences and supports that hold the animals.

    And that’s what happens on the committee-two people appreciate a book for two completely different reasons and then they end up appreciating it twice as much.

  5. Sorry! I didn’t make myself clear about the weather thing: I meant that since there isn’t such a clear forward progression for me in this book (it’s raining, then naamah sings all through the night against a starry sky, then it’s raining…. and so on until the end, when it’s just about stopped raining), it would have helped me if ,say, there was a gradual lessening of the rain from beginning to end, closing with that final calmish spread. As it is, what is the time frame for these events? but it’s a small thing, can’t even call it a concern since no one else shares it! 🙂

  6. KT Horning says:

    Absolutely, Robin! That is the best part of any award discussion, and when you get several — or fifteen — people, all coming to the discussion with different things they appreciated, it makes the discussion that much richer.

    On the other hand, you can have just one person who sees a loose thread, such as the lack of gradation to show the passage of time/change in the weather, and when folks begin to look at it more closely and start to tug at that loose thread, everything can unravel — or not, depending on how strong the rest of the book is.

    Both kinds of discussion are important, and also are hard to capture in a mock discussion.

  7. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    KT said, “Both kinds of discussion are important, and also are hard to capture in a mock discussion.”

    Yes, indeed. I often attend the Notable Books discussion at ALA, which are public. I thought they were probably like Newbery and Caldecott discussions…and they are, but just a little.
    The real thing, in real time, is impossible to replicate.

    And I totally understand the metaphor of the thread. I would hope no one would get bogged down in minutiae, but I know it can happen. I worry about making mountains out of molehills. (and about using little phrases like “mountains out of molehills” that point out that I am turning in my grandmother)

  8. Martha P. says:

    …and in this case I think the book is way strong enough to withstand any thread-pulling. I didn’t mean to weigh the discussion down with minutiae — mostly I was hoping someone would write in with their interpretation of how the story moved through time, and enlighten me.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.


Speak Your Mind