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Book Review: Noah’s Animal Friends: A Book And Playset by Gwen Ellis, Illustrated by Lucy Barnard

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The Deluge is certainly the most horrific act of destruction that this planet has ever experienced, still countless numbers of adults and children find the relation of this event one of the most captivating stories found in the Old Testament. The concept of “two by two”, a host of animals on a bulky cargo ship, and a redeemed family living onboard continues to spur artists and authors to create new child-friendly renditions of this timeless event.

Needless to say, many parents don't want to expose their young children to the dreadful realities that such mass destruction created. As such, cheerful board books such as Noah’s Animal Friends are written to introduce preschoolers to this pivotal occurrence in human history. Author Gwen Ellis has written the text for a 10 page board book to accompany a unique playset that encourages young children to act out loading the animals onto the ark.

Lucy Barnard’s illustrations are charming, whimsical, and unabashedly friendly. Noah and his family all seem very personable, the animals are all smiling. With a varied palette of saturated colors and folk-art influenced characters, the illustrations are incredibly appealing for young children. Ellis’ text is warm, and as most simplified versions do – omits more complex details such as seven of certain animals being brought on board. Action words and simple conversational language are used to depict God’s instructions to Noah, and the motion of the ark on the water.

The large, heavy cardboard playset immediately captured the hearts of my children, and after punching out some light cardboard animals, they set to work inserting the tabs on the bottom of the animals into slots in the ark. The ark has two doors that open wide, displaying a storage slot for the book, and an art scene – most of the animals have one or two representatives already on board, but there are some singles and Noah himself left loose that need some help getting loaded.

This sounds better than it works. In actuality the slots in the layers of cardboard are tight, and my kids jammed their little animals against them, rendering some of the tabs unusable. I pulled out the tape to do reinforcing, but this was only the start of our troubles. Though clearly geared for preschoolers, it’s the rare child who will be able to keep track of the cardboard menagerie that comes with the playset.

With no integral storage for the critters I set my children up with a re-sealable sandwich bag, still the animals rarely made it back to their plastic bag home. After tiring of the chaos of scattered animals I started to pitch them, one by one. Still I occasionally find one lingering behind a toy tub somewhere, and quietly discard it (don’t tell my kids!) Older children may do a better job containing their mini-zoo, but then they would be outside of the target age range.

Despite the fact that the animals are mostly gone now, my children still adore the cardboard base — where the animals didn’t hold up to handling, the base is still going strong — it’s indestructible, and they won’t let me get rid of it. That just goes to show how appealing the opening doors and charming artwork are. The board book is still with us as well, being sturdily constructed.

Overall Noah’s Animal Friends: A Book And Playset is a cute idea, and the type of product Christian grandparents will likely find hard to resist if they stumble across it in a store, but in actually it didn’t work out in the day-to-day testing grounds of our family.

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