In The Beginning by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser

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In The Beginning by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Stunning illustrations that I felt were sadly let down by the awkward text that required a lot of explanation to my little listener.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1406322484

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Using a modified text, based on the King James bible, this book collects some of the best-loved stories from the Old Testament and they are portrayed in full page, gloriously vibrant pictures. With everything from the Creation through to Noah, Joseph and David and Goliath this is an extensive collection of stories to share with children. My daughter and I love Pienkowski's funny illustrations throughout the Meg and Mog stories, so I was hopeful that this would be another lovely book to share with her.

The illustrations certainly are wonderful. Some are artistic, swirls of colour or dramatic silhouette images. Others are more cartoon-ish, people with funny expressions and cute animals, or imaginative takes on the story. In the story of Noah, for example, one page is a picture list of animals for Noah to take into the ark. Certain animals are ticked, then others have crosses over them such as a couple of dinosaurs and a unicorn! The colours are gorgeous, so bright and appealing, and although they're quite simple there still seems to be lots to take in, and lots to discuss.

Sadly I didn't feel the same about the accompanying text. It has been based on the King James bible, and although it's simplified it still retains much of the same feel. I can see that it might be nice to introduce children to the style and poetry of this text, but from my point of view it was totally inappropriate to share with a pre-school aged child. My daughter wanted to look at this book as soon as she saw the front cover, but once we started reading I found she was asking me after almost every page what was happening, what was going on, and what various things meant. In the Adam and Eve story one page has Adam and Eve saying The woman gave me of the tree and I did eat. The serpent beguiled me and I did eat. I'm all for introducing her to new vocabulary (how proud would I be if she used the word 'beguiled' in a sentence!) but the phrasing and sentence construction just seemed to confuse her until she was fed up of all the explaining we were going through, and she didn't want to read any more. The text is abbreviated too, and so bits of the story are missing, so not only did I have to explain the meaning of words like 'tiller' and 'slew' but I also had to fill in what was actually happening to match up with the pictures.

Because of this I think perhaps older children would get more from the book, so although it appears to be a picture book for little ones it's probably better for sharing with those around seven years or older. It would make a nice teaching aid within Sunday schools, giving illustrations to any stories that have been discussed. I think next time I read it with my daughter I will adapt the stories as I'm telling them and we will just enjoy the pictures and talk about the stories together. I would have been disappointed had I bought this without realising about the text, hence my 'maybe' with regards to buying a copy. But if you're happy to read through all the ye's and thou's and mayst's and shalt's then it's certainly a beautiful book to keep and return to.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: There's more sumptuous illustration by Pienkowski or for more Noah fun try The Two-by-two Band by David Flavell and Alison Bartlett.

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Buy In The Beginning by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In The Beginning by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser at


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Rosemary Morton Jack said:

The new PIenkowski book is everything wonderful that your reviewer Ruth Ng says but I cannot agree with her dislike of the KIng James text. If her pre school daughter is unable to read or follow it, let her glory in the wonderfully colourful and amusing illustrations alone. This book is not 'Meg and Mog', and cannot be expected to fulfill the same purpose. Let Pienkowski's illustrations stand alone for the very young until they grow old enough to appreciate the poetry and language: then the fortunate child will realise that here is a book for life, not simply for the nursery.

It's hardly surprising if Ruth Ng's daughter isn't ready for some of the ancient language. A child in the company of an adult can look at the pictures and hear the text, albeit altered or abridged if need be, but if the adult is clever enough to introduce occasional gems, such as 'beguile', (a word Ruth Ng singles out for praise) and thus widen the child's vocabulary by stealth, here is an opportunity not to be missed. The vibrant and descriptive pictures are laugh-out-loud witty with enough information and entertainment value in themselves. What would be the point of reducing the text to a simple, modern idium when there are already easy-to-read versions available? Children respond to challenges and love new words, especially if they are strange and rarely used.

Hoorah for the combined talents of David Walser and Jan Pienkowski and for their courage and insistance (if such were needed) for sticking to the King James Version and presenting children and adults with something to enjoy together, as old as the hills but as fresh as paint.

Rosemary Morton Jack