If you are an adult reader of children’s literature, you will undoubtedly be used to snarky comments about why you are still reading “kids’ books”. I am not sure anyone has yet forgiven Martin Amis for his comments on writing children’s literature either: that having an audience in mind inevitably brings limitations and that “fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable” (see here). This misconception that all children’s literature is dumbed down is, well, quite frustrating!
I wonder what those doubters would make of Meet at the Ark at Eight! written by Ulrich Hub (translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby) and illustrated by Jörg Mühle therefore.
Here is a book that defies all stereotypes and asks “what restraints?!?”, almost incredulously. When people think of children’s literature with few ‘boundaries’, they probably assume that contents include violence, drugs, promiscuity etc etc. But some books push the boundaries of philosophy, religion and simply encourage their readers to do their own thinking (and therefore are the most “dangerous” type of literature, which is why haters fear them).
Meet at the Ark at Eight! is a wonderful example of such books for younger readers (while Bernard Beckett’s August and Genesis are worth investigating for a teenage readership). This heavily illustrated novella tells the story how the friendship between three penguins is tested due to the imminent prospect of the Great Flood and choices that need to be made to embark on Noah’s Ark. Hub manages to recreate the ancient tale with a hilarious twist and keen observations on friendship, how our decisions impact those around us, and of course, religion. While it certainly encourages young readers to think about belief systems, Meet at the Ark at Eight! does not offer an answer; it is all about challenging, thinking outside the box, not accepting anything without making one’s mind. But oh, it is SUCH fun, and while it does make one think, there is a lightness in the narrative that makes its impact so great. The innocence of the penguins’ questioning mirrors children’s own, and the result is impeccably effective.
Meet at the Ark at Eight! is quirky, oddly moral in a sneaky way and very European. Books like this are considered fairly mainstream on the Continent, but I still feel this is not quite so in the UK, regrettably . I was therefore very interested to find out why Pushkin Press had decided to publish such a title. Daniel Seton, Commissioning Editor at Pushkin Press, said:
The decision to publish Meet at the Ark at Eight! was probably one of the easiest ever made at Pushkin Children’s Books. Within a few hours of receiving the manuscript we’d all read it, all loved it, and all knew we wanted to add it to our list. It tells the story of three penguin pals whose unremarkable Antarctic existence is disrupted by the Great Flood. Two of them have tickets for Noah’s Ark, but they can’t leave their friend behind… can they?
Ulrich Hub’s intelligent and irresistibly funny story manages to entertain while addressing numerous philosophical questions – How far should we go to help our friends? What noise does a deer make? Is there a God, and, if so, does he above of dove-penguin marital union? – and never forgets to pack in the jokes along the way. Jörg Mühle’s charming illustrations complete the package perfectly. A sweet and sharp take on a story we all know, Meet at the Ark at Eight! is ultimately a heartwarming tale about friendship. With added penguins.
Thank you Daniel.
I wish Meet at the Ark at Eight! all the success. It deserves to be read by every one. Because let’s be honest it is the grown-ups who might need to learn a thing or two about their attitude to others!
Meet at the Ark at Eight! is out now and is published by Pushkin Press. You can buy a copy here.
Source: review copy from publisher