Review: Counting on Naamah: A Mathematical Tale on Noah's Ark

Counting on Naamah: A Mathematical Tale on Noah's Ark

by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

Intergalactic Afikomen, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

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In Counting on Naamah, Erica Lyons creates a playful modern midrash, (defined in the back matter as “a tale that begins with a story from the Torah”) answering some of the questions Lyons has about life on Noah’s ark. By centering the story on a very contemporary depiction of Noah’s wife, Lyons also adds a note of female empowerment. Noah’s wife is barely mentioned in the Torah, but the back matter also notes that according to rabbinic midrashim her name was Naamah, meaning pleasant. In their midrash, Lyons and illustrator Mary Reaves Uhles make Naamah more than just pleasant. She is a STEM genius, able to facilitate Noah’s implementation of G-d’s plan through her math and science knowledge. The author imagines the building of the ark and the activities that the pair come up with to keep the animals content on the crowded ark. The author and illustrator lean heavily and humorously into anachronisms, with Noah performing a comedy routine holding a microphone, images of modern blueprints, and pencils held by Naamah’s helpful goose friend. With several full-spread scenes of these activities drawn at alternating angles, the illustrator adds the feeling of the ark rocking back and forth on the floodwaters.

As a tale from the Torah, this book contains obvious Jewish content. The narrative does step away a bit from the biblical one, without a mention or image of Noah's three sons who figure prominently in the Torah. Yet with a story as universal as Noah’s ark, this book can appeal across a wide range of practice, for Jews and non-Jews alike, especially those who want to show that girls can be great at STEM too.

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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BFA in illustration from The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. Currently the illustration editor of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, she has been a bookseller, bookkeeper, papermaker, calligrapher, fine artist, illustrator, and teacher of children from ages two to fourteen.