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NOAH’S ARK NEVER FAILS TO KEEP KIDS’ INTEREST AFLOAT

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The Bible is one of the most popular sources of stories revised for children. Numerous illustrators have given their versions of the classical events, with the birth of Jesus the most widely told story. The tale of Noah's ark is also a favorite. More than 26 illustrators in the past 10 years have portrayed the story in nearly every conceivable medium - pen and ink, oils, woodcuts and collage.

Some artists use the verse taken directly from the Scriptures; others modify the words, set them in rhyme or animate the characters."Peter Spier's Noah's Ark" (Doubleday) won the 1982 Caldecott Award.

The following versions from the past few years show the wide variety of ways that Noah's ark has been retold:

INSIDE NOAH'S ARK. Laura Fischetto. Illustrated by Letitia Galli. Viking, 1990. 32 pages. $13.95

In an animated version, INSIDE NOAH'S ARK tells what happens when full-grown animals are cooped up on a boat and become bored. They lose their memories of their individual capabilities: " `Where is my nest in a tree?' the elephant wonders. `I'm sure I could fly,' the lion insists. `We were king and queen of the forest,' the rabbits boast.' "

It is only when the goats set the other animals straight that a means of coping with the many days on a rain-swept boat is found.

Fischetto and Galli, who are from Italy and new to the picture book field, have a witty text combined with vivid tempura wash illustrations that will make a hit with readers 3 through 8.

TWO BY TWO; THE UNTOLD STORY. Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989 (paperback) $3.95).

First printed in 1984 and recently reissued as a paperback, this watercolor version shows Noah wondering how he will get the animals to go aboard. Then he has an idea: "I'll make the trip a pleasure cruise! Fun and games and fresh sea air! We'll travel in style. How can the animals say no to that?"

The animals receive their invitation and whoop, "Well, when it rains, it pours!" The trip is on with everyone loading sun tan oil, swimming flippers, cameras and roller skates.

But the vacation fun ends when the rain comes hard and everyone gets sick. Shuffle board games are strewn with lawn chairs, the elephant turns green, and the rats venture on the deck with life preservers. Bedlam is put to rest, however, when Noah suggests a dance - two by two.

Hewitt tells a comical tongue-in-cheek story with detailed full-color illustrations, such as the bear in hair curlers, God's herald wearing a messenger's uniform and the dove returning a branch with olives stuffed with pimentos. This version, while not a Sunday School edition, perhaps, is a chuckle a page!

THE ARK. Arthur Geisert. Houghton Mifflin Company. $15.95.

Geisert's talent has never been better than this exquisite art piece of etching reproduced in black and white. The text, one liners, is not necessary to the illustrated story from the laying of the keel, the boarding of the animals, the ominous storm, to the welcome rainbow.

There is no doubt to the organization of Noah in this version. In two-page spreads and in pictures showing cross sections of the boat, each compartment is packed with animals. Jars of insects, cocoons and an aviary give glimpses of the smallest protected creatures inside, while sea animals of all sizes circle beneath the hull.

Noah and his family are seen actively keeping the ark clean, hanging laundry and resting amid the nocturnal creatures.

The story sequence is a pleasing one, but the art-work is a masterpiece. This incredible book will fascinate all ages; children for the story and adults who appreciate the technique of etching at its best.