Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator)

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Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator)

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Possibly the weirdest juvenile fable you'll ever read – this story of an unlikely trio faced with the Noah flood has a lot of power on its few pages.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 64 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
ISBN: 9781782690870

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An educated penguin, an agnostic penguin and a violent, smaller, young penguin walk into a snowdrift… You might not be able to make a full joke out of that opening line, but this book practically does continue on from there. Three penguins – each a little different from the other, even if they generally look and definitely smell the same, and God, a subject of their conversation when a butterfly comes along, of all things. The young, hot-headed one (well, in the pictures he wears a woolly hat, he's bound to be hot-headed) leaves in umbrage, leaving just two – which is perfectly timed if you're a dove, and come along telling all the animals to get into Noah's Ark in pairs, as an almighty flood is about to happen…

I've had the misfortune of seeing other reviews of this book berate it for being anti-religious. Even if here are penguins affirming the existence of an omniscient, omnipresent and all-seeing God to each other. The most sacrilegious thing on these pages is not putting a capital H on the front of the godly 'Him'. I suppose some people can see it, should they choose to do so, as too ribald a version of events – Noah is ineffective, the flood is immediately a thing of regret, and without giving too much away the two-by-two bit of the commandment doesn't exactly go to order – but heck, it's a children's fable. It's an extremely quirky love story, too, but it's also a matter-of-fact look at what religion does – the doubt it causes, the problems it makes, the debate it inspires.

And yes, as per my opening line here, it does sort of turn on one huge joke – and the unwritten joke, that is obvious too if you only think about it, that both the penguins here employed to keep the smelly, fishy birds' line alive are male examples. But I then go back to the ideas I've seen elsewhere about this book, and ask how the Ark story can ever be held literally? A deluge, yes, but the rest? In that regard having the hubbub that is life on board is perfectly reasonable, putting it down to a dove to do all the hard work (a dove that speaks the same tongue as the penguins, of course) is logical – and even having the rattlesnakes trying to smuggle some handy gambling cards on board is completely in tune with the absurdity of it all.

If this book is perfectly reasonable, logical and completely in tune with things, then you might ask why only four stars. Well, it does suffer a little for being slight – a lot of wonderful illustrations are present, and the read won't take anyone long. It did make me laugh, but I do wonder how much of the absurdist humour will translate to the young target audience. (I now remember how much of the Theatre of the Absurd had an anti-religious bent; I wonder why this text won a German Children's Theatre Award.) But to counter that comes the unusual manner of it all, the ease with which it's open to interpretation – I rarely mention other reviews and opinions in my own, but this is a case in point of anyone being able to put a completely different spin and verdict on the book, whether through religious sensibilities or not. That in mind, some people may give this five stars, and my partner (in her second childhood, clearly) roared with laughter – for me it comes down as a jolly oddity, if not perfectly pitched at what seems to be its own ideal reader. It certainly didn't offend me, and should offend nobody – instead it's something to definitely recommend.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Also from the same publisher, Fuzz McFlops by Eve Furnari and Alison Entrekin (translator) was another slice of weird fable from a far-off land.

Buy Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator) at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Meet at the Ark at Eight! by Ulrich Hub, Jorg Muhle and Helena Ragg-Kirkby (translator) at Amazon.com.

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