Readers have come to expect thoughtful and poetic new perspectives on women in Jewish tradition from renowned author Jane Yolen. In Mrs. Noah’s Doves, Yolen explores the personal motivations of Noah’s wife in the story of the flood, filling the gaps in the biblical story with a creative midrash on one woman’s strength and compassion. Alida Massari’s illustrations are stunning, recalling both folk art and paintings of the European masters. The result is an exceptional work which invites young readers to identify with the unique mission of both Noah and his wife to work with God in restoring life to a broken earth.
In this picture book, Mrs. Noah is more than just a helpmate; Yolen emphasizes the partnership between the spouses in achieving their goal. Yolen’s poetic images and cadences elevate the text, based on her expectation that children can appreciate sophisticated language and ideas. Mrs. Noah’s determination is rooted not only in her own personality, but in a chain of female nurturers. Her eclectic collection of birds, “…ravens and robins, eagles and eiders, cockatoos and crows,” connect her emotionally to the doves her grandmother protected. The peaceful symbolism of the dove flying from Noah’s ark gains a new dimension as a vulnerable creature saved by a woman’s skills.
As in the Torah, there is terror in this account of destruction by water. Yolen chooses to avoid the punitive aspects of the story, although they may be implicit in the familiar sequence of events. Instead, the massive flood is a reality which Noah and his wife confront with purposeful actions. Noah is confident that God is directing them, and his love and respect for his wife reinforces their plan. The giant ark — typically associated with male power — is constructed here by both their sons and their daughters. On a much larger scale, the ark reflects the same concern for life as Mrs. Noah’s delicate bird cages. This consistent imagery of dedication to people and the natural environment forms the backbone of the narrative, as meaningful as the rainbow which God sends as a promise.
Massari’s pictures blend realism with dream-like imagery. Each pair of animals on the ark is enclosed in a cage. There are more than only birds; giraffes’ necks stretch beyond the curving black bars and cats have human-like eyes which gaze out with wonder. Torrential rain pours into a green and blue sea as the wooden ark struggles to stay afloat. The human characters’ faces recall medieval portraits, infused with spirituality. Mrs. Noah raises her hands as if in prayer, releasing doves whose wingspans feature blue and white mosaic patterns. Just as Yolen’s words enlarge the boundaries of the well-known story, Massari’s pictures also depict the key figures from a new perspective. Mrs. Noah is a statuesque older woman with long gray hair, who turns to her husband for support. He appears anxious, but the following scene is one of busy activity as construction of the life-saving project begins. These are real people relying on close relationships as they confront a frightening reality.
Yolen and Massari’s new vision of Noah’s ark places a loving and courageous woman at the center. Mrs. Noah’s minimal role in the original version opens the door to a lyric exploration of who she really was, filled with visual beauty.—Website
In harmonious, poetic language, author Jane Yolen engages readers with kindly Mrs. Noah who cares for injured birds – “ravens and robins, eagles and eiders, cockatoos and crows” and her favorite, the doves – in much the same way a loving grandmother might care for her grandchildren. And when, as we knew would happen, the rains come, Mrs. Noah moves the bird cages higher and higher, caring for the birds, keeping them dry. Still, the waters rise. Mrs. Noah asks Mr. Noah for help. With assurances from Mr. Noah that God has told him what to do, Noah’s family builds a boat – “a floating zoo” – to keep themselves, the birds, and the animals (which arrive two-by-two) safe from flooding waters. At last, the rains cease. Mrs. Noah releases her birds to search for dry land. But, the ravens do not return. Nor do the terns. Or the gulls. Finally, Mrs. Noah releases the doves – her “gray angels” – who return to build a nest and start the cycle of life anew. Poignant illustrations of animals and by Alida Massari add softness, depth, and additional warmth to this powerful retelling of a familiar story. Mr. and Mrs. Noah are portrayed with long, flowing hair and features that may, perhaps, accurately represent people who lived long ago in the “Fertile Crescent” of Mesopotamia - the area that is now Iraq and where many of humankind's inventions may have been inspired.
Readers will fall in love with Mrs. Noah and her doves in this heartwarming retelling of the age-old story of destruction, rebirth, and hope. Using Mrs. Noah as the protagonist, author Jane Yolen gives a new perspective to this quintessentially Jewish story. Mrs. Noah, in her warm and sensitive way, models the all-important mitzvah of caring for the sick. And, in the end, there is hope! A must for all libraries…and homes.
“'Before there was rain,/ Mrs. Noah kept injured birds,' writes Yolen (Elefantastic!), immediately drawing readers into this poetic and visually striking variation on the ark story. Portrayed with light brown skin and flowing white hair, Mrs. Noah exudes serenity as she nurses her feathered patients, and they, in turn, know 'she would keep them safe/ until they were well enough, or old enough,/ to go off on their own.' But she loves the doves best of all: 'They reminded her of her grandmother/ cooing over the newest grandchild/ or, at night, bending over to pray/ in her soft, gray clothing.' When the rains come and the waters rise (the story reverses the traditional chronology of building and storm), Mrs. Noah urges her husband to save her beloved birds, soon learning that God, through Mr. Noah, has much bigger plans in mind—and an important role for her doves. With flowing lines, soft rich tones, and patterning reminiscent of decorative art (the doves’ wings seem almost bejeweled), Massari (Goddess Power) conveys a time and place that feels both of its time and deeply familiar, and the creators render Mrs. Noah as the epitome of selfless love and enduring hope." — Publishers Weekly—Journal
"Yolen puts Noah’s wife center stage in this reimagining of the biblical flood narrative.
Kindly, gentle Mrs. Noah, her long white hair in a half-up bun, nurses injured birds of all kinds back to health. Doves, which remind her of her grandmother (presumably deceased) 'at night, bending over to pray in her soft, gray clothing,' are her favorite. When it begins to rain interminably, Mrs. Noah struggles to keep her bird cages above the rising floodwaters. 'Do not worry,' Mr. Noah reassures her, 'God has told me what to do.' With his sons and daughters, he builds a 'huge boat' (the sudden absence of rain in the illustration showing the boat’s construction may confuse some readers) that spares his family and a male and female of each animal species from the world-engulfing flood. When the rain stops, Mrs. Noah sends out her birds to find evidence of dry land. The eagles, ravens, terns, and gulls all fail to return, but her doves come back bearing bits of vegetation in their beaks, heralding the deluge’s end. Lyrical imagery suffuses the lexically stimulating text: raindrops are 'small drips as perfect as pearls,' and rain showers are 'cloud bursts and gully washers.' Massari’s trademark style incorporates various textures and elaborate patterns recalling the ornamentations of sacral architecture. The animals’ droll facial expressions (Noah’s too, at times) sometimes give them a bored look. The characters’ light-brown skin and clothing cue them as Middle Eastern.
A lovely backstory for an obscure biblical personality." — Kirkus Reviews—Journal