One Sparkling Lullaby

“As rain falls over the ark at night,
As water swirls in the dark of night,
As thunder crashes the seams of night,
As Noah tosses in dreams of night,
As restless animals prowl at night,
As they pace and roar and growl at night,
Naamah sings all through the night.”

Naamah and the Ark at Night is a lullaby that aims for starry perfection. Susan Campbell Bartolletti, acclaimed for her nonfiction (Hitler Youth won the 2006 Newbery Honor), has reached back in time to imagine the significant role Noah’s wife might have played. Employing the Arabic poetic structure of a ghazal, requiring couplets to end in the same word, she has created a simple but powerful bedtime poem.

Bartoletti’s lyrical work comes to life with the bright collages of cut paper and watercolors by Holly Meade (winner of a Caldecott Honor). Meade’s sense of movement echoes the gently rocking, repetitive nature of the author’s text. She infuses the book’s large pages with interesting perspectives, humorous details, and a sense of life’s harmony. Two by two, the owls nestle, the monkey curl their tails symmetrically, the zebras rest their heads on each other’s backs.

The author notes how, as a child, she would play with a wooden Noah’s ark whenever she visited her grandmother. As beloved as that Bible story is, the role of Noah’s wife has been overlooked. Rabbinical legends, though, tell that his wife was called Naamah (pronounced with three syllables as “Na-ah-mah” or “Nay-ah-mah”), a variation of Naomi, which means “sweet” or “pleasant.”  Some legends describe another Naamah, whose name meant “great singer.” Those interpretations, Bartoletti notes, led her to imagine how the woman could have inspired and comforted those on the ark.

Winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award and the Charlotte Zolotow HonorNaamah and the Ark at Night is a remarkable little beauty.

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