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.