Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Children's Lit

My daughter is almost one, and has several books. She loves them, not for the stories, but for the fact that she's allowed to chew on them and they open and close. There's also the colourful illustrations in most of them, and the subject of my missive is no different.

She has a book called The Day The Rain Came, and it's about Noah and the flood. It's been her favourite for the last few days, I think chiefly because it's a pop-up book, and I haven't given it much thought until recently. I've avoided it, simply because it annoys me.

First of all, I've joked that the book should be called The Day God Killed Everyone. Because he did. It was the point. Seriously.

5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Gen. 6:5-8)
I find that this story is suitable reading for an infant somewhat troubling. Especially if you want the child to grow up a Christian, and I assume that's the point. If I wanted Mickie to grow up an atheist (and I do, but I have to put up with religion for the sake of my marriage), I'd tell her about the old testament, and point out what a dick god is, killing and having people killed and raped and stuff.

The book gets around this nicety by simply not mentioning it. It starts with Noah building the ark, not with god getting angry, and planning to kill everyone but this one guy and his family, and it even avoids the conversation that Noah and god have:

So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress [c] wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. [d] 16 Make a roof for it and finish [e]
the ark to within 18 inches [f] of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to
keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal
and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be
kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store
it away as food for you and for them. (Gen. 6:13-21)
Noah builds his boat (measuring in feet, now, as opposed to cubits), and collects all the animals on the planet, and then the rain comes. Everybody is smiling all the time in the images (even the animals), which indicates mental deficiency, considering what is going on as the waters rise, and the fact that the genepool just got much, much smaller, and it's going to take some kickass divine intervention to prevent inbreeding.

It also ignores the fact that apparently the fish and aquatic mammals were behaving themselves, and that god was going to kill them anyway with a sudden drop in the salinity of the oceans. Also unconsidered is the fact that plants are likely incapable of sinning, but were nonetheless condemned. The two of each kind versus seven of each kind is ignored as well as the contradictions in the timeline, the number of mountains that appear, and the repetition of Noah's people going into the ark.

The book does not tell the story of the condemned birds sent out to look for land, either. The rains stop, the boat lands, and everybody still smiles (and the trees are strangely undisturbed). The rainbow appears, and the book tells the child that it's a symbol of god's love. I read it as a symbol of god's repentance, but what do I know.

This book bugs me. It translates the story of one of god's worst crimes against humanity into pretty pictures for children, and skips the genocide point, which god says repeatedly is the thrust of the matter. I pointed this out to my wife the other day, saying that the story is incomplete, and the rest ought to be included. She agreed, pointing out that the people were sinners, so god killed them. I'm not sure that's the message children should get, but I think my perceptions are skewed.

Another note on the book. Check out this screenshot, and see how the book is categorized:

"Juvenile Nonfiction". At least "Juvenile" is right.

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