Review of the Day: Noah's Mittens
I grew up the daughter of a fiber artist. There are, of course, a couple distinct advantages to growing up surrounded by wool day and night. You never lack for warm colorful sweaters. You eventually learn how to spin yarn from wool on a real live spinning wheel. You can dye wool with Kool-aid once in a while for kicks (this is true). On the other hand, there was one element of my fiber-rific life that never really won me over. My mother loved creating little brightly-hued felt balls out of wool. Just take an old pair of nylons, stuff a ball of wool into the toe, tie it tight, throw it in the washing machine and voila! Instant felt. I had actually forgotten about my felting past for a spell, until I picked up Lise Lunge-Larsen’s recent attempt to spice of the Noah’s Ark story. Entitled, “Noah’s Mittens”, the book sent me back to my feltin’ youth with a rush of memory. Though I’ve seen plenty of picture books talk about sheep, where wool comes from, and sometimes even how to spin fiber, I’ve never seen anyone try to explain the process of felting to children. Credit Ms. Lunge-Larsen, then, with being one of the first.
Thought you knew the story of Noah? Think again. There’s more to that tale than meets the eye. As we all remember, Noah was told to build an ark and, because he asked good questions, he was able to create it, stock it with two of every kind of animal, and set sail. Not everything was hunky-dory on the voyage, however. Noah had sealed the boat with pitch which had seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, that meant that “no moisture or heat could escape”. And even then, that might not have been so bad, had the sheep not suffered so terribly. Trapped in a situation where the wool fibers would lock together and shrink in the hold, the sheep are soon trapped in white, tight felt. Noah cuts it off and all is well, until the ark comes to a stop at the top of snowy icy Mount Ararat. Now Noah must make use of this new substance if he’s going to find a way to navigate down the mountain in peace and comfort.
You may remember illustrator Mr. Matthew Trueman from his eye-popping work on what may well be called the best Rosh Hashanah picture book ever, “The Day the Chickens Went On Strike”, by Erica Silverman. As an artist, Mr. Trueman gives this book enough zip and verve to attract the eye, sometimes against its will. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not Noah’s Ark oriented, and this title could easily have escaped my notice had Houghton Mifflin failed to engage Mr. Trueman’s talents. “The illustrations are mixed media using pencil, gouache, acrylics, and collage, with an overglaze of oil paint”, says the publication page. In other words, gorgeous. Pictures of Noah, whether he’s plowing a field or tumbling down a flight of stairs are packed to brimming with energy and action. At times, his fingers and toes become geometric, echoing the boxy pattern of the ark and its denizens. Squares of action or characters float on top of the wavey seas, sometimes with hash marks scrawled to count the days. Best of all, Trueman isn’t afraid to go for the clever visual gag. When two beavers set about chewing the ark to pieces in the hold, the image ties in nicely to Lunge-Larsen’s appropriately vague statement that Noah would, “settle disputes” onboard.
The story, as it happens, was thought up when the author learned from a friend that Noah discovered felt upon the ark. In fact, in a final section of the book entitled, “Facts About Felt”, the writer goes on to say that “the oldest pieces of felt ever found were discovered in Turkey, home to Mount Ararat, where the ark landed.” Such a statement was just bound to end up in a picture book someday. Why not now? The story actually holds together rather well. Mount Ararat being a mountain and all would OF COURSE have been covered in snow when the Ark landed. There are little elements to the tale that work rather well too. I liked how Lunge-Larsen was careful to mention that Noah was smart because he asked good questions. I liked the characters, the plot, and the way in which the book was written. The book doesn’t go into why God thought it would be a good idea to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, though. In fact, the words 40 days and 40 nights never appear in the text. Be aware then that this book is making the assumption that kids are already familiar with Noah’s tale and don’t need to hear it word for word recounted here.
I adored too the aforementioned facts at the back of the book that mention felt’s appearance in everything from the felt shield and helmets of the Chinese warriors to the end of your felt-tipped pen. Of course, it would have been nice if the author had provided some quick and dirty instructions for creating your own felt. I guess wool is not as abundant in some places as in others, but cheapo yarn can certainly be felted just as easily. Maybe the publisher didn’t want to give up the space, though. Besides, at least there’s a nice little Bibliography of four feltmaking books for those kids, parents, educators, and librarians that might be interested in creating their own felt creations.
A bit of a quibble with one element of the book, though. The back flap’s illustrator info reads that the mighty talented Matthew Trueman, “had fun researching the wall carvings, murals and other art of ancient Israel, Mesopotamia, and Turkey.” I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud or anything, but in the midst of all this research is there any particular reason why he failed to look up how many children Noah had? Cause that last image of Noah, his wife, and his young son sledding down the side of Mount Ararat, for all it’s charms, is short about two other sons and three wives. I believe that a person can change little elements of stories to their liking, but when Ms. Lunge-Larson wrote that, “God told Noah and his family to go and people the earth”, that whole peopling process is mighty hard when there’s just one kid on the page. I think Trueman missed the whole two by two element here.
That’s okay, though. I, personally, could just page through this book all day, enjoying the pictures I find there. For sheer beauty, Trueman’s work is hard to match. And it’s nice to see the process of felting finally getting its kiddie lit due. I may complain long and hard when my husband accidentally felts my favorite scarf in the dryer, but I still have a respect for the process. A rather lovely book.