Noah and the Ziz

Jacque­line Jules; Kather­ine Janus Kahn, illus.
  • Review
By – August 6, 2012

The Ziz, king of all birds in Jew­ish leg­end, reap­pears in a bustling, col­or­ful pic­ture book that presents him as a com­bi­na­tion of Big Bird and Miss Man­ners and flies him into the Noah sto­ry. The sto­ry is mild­ly amus­ing, over­ly ser­mo­niz­ing and a dis­ap­point­ing sec­ond out­ing for the team of Jules and Kahn whose first Ziz col­lab­o­ra­tion, The Hard­est Word, is mar­velous. Noah and the Ziz suf­fers by com­par­i­son, but, nev­er­the­less, offers some charm to very young read­ers. The plot deliv­ers more morals than Bible. God sends the fan­tas­tic Ziz to help Noah load the ani­mals onto the ark. The clum­sy bird abounds in enthu­si­asm, but works too quick­ly and too rough­ly; he is more hin­drance than help. Ten­sion builds as time runs out and the tiny ani­mals refuse to leave with the giant bird. When Noah is not pleased, the Ziz flies to Mt. Sinai for solace. But God rein­forces Noah’s mes­sage. Ziz learns that care­ful is bet­ter than fast. He suc­ceeds for him­self and for Noah. When he changes his ways, all arrive safe­ly in the nick of time and the book clos­es with the first rain drops. 

Along with the fun, I find two points of con­fu­sion for young read­ers. In an attempt to cap­ture its tar­get­ed audi­ence, the book offers a refrain. Sad­ly, the author clos­es the sto­ry with this refrain unchanged; it seems to negate all the Ziz has learned: he does not sing of fast and care­ful, but only fast. The sec­ond con­fu­sion is more philo­soph­i­cal. Why mix Bible (Noah) with mythol­o­gy (Ziz)? Are we sug­gest­ing to our tiny tots that the Bible is mere­ly more sophis­ti­cat­ed myth? For chil­dren who do not wor­ry about this, the Ziz is fun. He makes mis­takes and is bawled out; all read­ers relate to this. He admits how hard it is to change, but he man­ages it! Empa­thy, com­pas­sion and humor belong in the lit­er­a­ture we offer our Jew­ish chil­dren and Jules and Kahn offer it here. The illus­tra­tions sup­port the text’s verve. The char­ac­ter of Noah is hon­est: he must have been har­ried, wor­ried and over­worked in the days before the flood. Reflect­ing him this way offers anoth­er ver­sion for library Noah col­lec­tions that want every flood tale out there. If you do not dig below the sur­face gloss, the Ziz and the ani­mals (espe­cial­ly the ones he car­ries by their stripes!) com­bine in a sil­ly sto­ry that sug­ar coats its how to be good” les­son. For ages 4 – 6.

Ellen G. Cole, the librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions