How did the story of Noah's ark transition from one of disaster in the Bible to a happy children's book?
Two men desrve most of the credit for the story of Noah's ark becoming more child-friendly: Jacobus Revius and Peter Spier. Jacobus Revius, a Dutch writer, re-told the classic Bible story in his 17th-century poem "The Flood." The poem re-told the sotry in a manner and format a child can grasp. Author Peter Spier wrote "Noah's Ark" in 1977. His picture book is based upon Revius' work and contains very little text, alowing the reader to fill in the message to match the pictures. The book won the 1978 Caldecott Medal for illustration and the 1982 National Book Award for Children's Books as a picture book. It spawned many re-creations and inspired countless others to re-tell the Bible story according to various Christian denominations' viewpoints.
Perhaps the better question is not how the story of Noah's ark evolved, but why it evolved. The Bible story only appears as a disaster story to non-Christians. Many Christians believe those who do not follow the Lord are doomed. Once this idea is accepted, the story quickly reverts from one of disaster to one of hope. The Lord promises never to wash the earth with a flood again and provides the rainbow as a symbol of that promise.
The basic tenants of the story all resonate with children: the animals are portrayed as domicile and lovable; the rainbow is a colorful symbol of love; and, without realizing it, children are conditioned to view those who did not follow God's teachings as deserving of punishment. This helps reinforce the idea that good people are rewarded and bad people punished. It is an easily-grasped lesson and one which translates to paper well because there are animals, boats and rainbows to distract from the more negative aspect of the tale.