Sunday, 5 February 2012

Awkward questions

I love the story of Noah's Ark. Like Jonah and the Whale, it has all the elements of a great story - good and evil, a malevolent power, danger and animals. Since our baby was teeny we have sung her variants of The Animals Went in Two by Two, partly because it was one of the only songs we knew the words to before we went to playgroups and singing sessions and learnt or relearnt many more, partly because the repetition works wonders, and partly because it has all the elements of a great song - animals, numbers, divine retribution, optimism.

I bought Lucy Cousins' (of Maisie Mouse fame) beautifully illustrated retelling of the story this week. The pictures, as you would expect from Cousins, are lovely. A bonus is they show both puffins and penguins allowing me to teach the baby the difference, something we've been struggling with.

I do have friends though whose athiesm means they shy away from such songs and stories. It's a shame because surely Bible stories are amongst the best in the world. But it's also misguided. I want children who, if they are athiests, decide to be so through rationalism rather than ignorance. What's more, if they don't have a working knowledge of the Old and New Testaments then so much of Western culture will be closed to them, from the works of Milton and Philip Pullman to Ghost The Musical and the power ballads of Belinda Carlisle.

True, the book raises concepts I may struggle to explain to the baby in future - Who is this being called God? What did the rest of the people do that was really so bad? Why are sea creatures shown going into the ark? But so do most of our other books, from Meg and Mog (What is a witch?) to The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Why didn't they just tell the tiger to share?). And in some ways the questions arising from Noah are likely to be easier. After all, "some people believe in a supreme being who made the world and decides what happens" is almost easier to believe than "some people, when a talking Tiger knocks on their door, let's it come in and help itself to all the food in the house."

(Lucy Cousins incidentally has also retold and illustrated some classic fairy tales in a book called Yummy. Don't tell the baby - I've bought it for her for next Christmas.)

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