Ruthie’s family and other animals

A preteen novel describes how Noah’s Ark might have been.

July 2, 2010 16:10
3 minute read.
Noah’s Ark being tossed in high waves during a lig

noahs ark 311. (photo credit: Hector Casanova/Kansas City Star/MCT)


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A Green Fantasy
By Edna Chayen | Mazo Publishers | 183 pages | $16.95

Many parents know how a whole family can get caught up in a school project. In this book, described as “a preteen fantasy,” readers can join 10-year-old Ruthie as she, her 12-year-old brother Dan, newfound friend Peter and ecology student cousin Jack all become consumed with her summer project: Noah’s Ark.

I found that my way-preteen son and I – both interested in animals and the environment – also discovered a lot to think about as Ruthie’s band figures out how the ark must have been a closed ecosystem and how it could have been built – no easy feat when you consider it must have been completely watertight, with the dimensions of a football field and built without the benefit of modern tools.

Many of the ideas, for example that the animals might have been young to take up less room and avoid the problems of aggression and mating, seem plausible. I found myself, like Ruthie, Dan and Jack, working out in my mind how many different types of pools there must have been (freshwater, saltwater, hot and cold) and the likelihood that the ark, unlike the plastic models sold in most toy shops, must have had trees and plants inside to provide the correct ecosystem for all the birds and insects as well as to provide oxygen and clean the air.

In this book, the ark becomes a beautiful, closed ecological system with flowers and waterfalls, completely self-sufficient and able to recreate the necessary climatic conditions for the various species of animals. Ruthie, with some help, also solves the problems of providing food and medicine for animals and Noah’s family, storage space and living quarters.

Much of the story is based on Ruthie’s dreams in which she “sees” how the ark was made and functioned, each time as a different animal. Some of the ideas come as Dan makes sarcastic comments, such as the polar bears arriving by floating on the melting icebergs or using the bears to find honey. “I can see you think that’s another of your jokes, Dan, but you’re probably right,” Jack said. “Honey is good for storing.”

Throughout the book, there are illustrations to help portray how the ark could have looked, but nonetheless, I found the discussion about the construction and dimensions hard to follow and at some points even boring. In contrast, the ideas on how the animals could have been transported, housed and exercised (without eating each other!) were fascinating.

The tone of the book is very British, reflecting the background of the author, who moved here in 1964.

One thing I found particularly jarring was the stereotyping of the mother as the worrier, shopper and housewife who merely accompanies her university lecturer husband as he travels on the lecture circuit, fortunately for the children to the seaside. Chayen, according to the jacket information, has a degree in psychology and diploma (from Cambridge University) in anthropology and was a practicing barrister and criminologist in England who later taught at Tel Aviv University and raised chickens and goats after retiring. She puts her eclectic background and interests, as well as her experience as a mother of two, to good use, proving that she is far from the rather dated stereotype mother of the book.

The summer project – “But Mummy... it’s for school” – becomes somewhat of an obsession for Ruthie. As the school holidays started, I found myself still thinking of ideas and my son wanted to try to build a model based on the book’s version. Not for everyone, A Green Fantasy had obviously nonetheless made an impression.

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