Jonah and the Great Big Fish is part of the Zonderkidz line of books. Intended for children ages four through eight, Rhonda Gowler Greene attempts to tell the story of Jonah in an age appropriate manner. As an adult who is reading and reviewing the book, I’ve tried to keep that in mind.
First, let’s look at the content of the book. Admittedly, when it comes to this aspect of the review, I can’t help but comment as an adult who is well-acquainted with the story of Jonah. The story begins with God instructing Jonah to go to Nineveh. He’s to tell the people of the city to repent. Jonah does not acquiesce and consequently flees. He climbs aboard a ship and sets sail. (For where, we’re not told.) While sailing a wicked storm develops. Jonah is thrown overboard and is rescued by ‘a great big fish.’ After spending three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah wises up and agrees to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message that he has been given by God.
Overall, I was impressed by the author’s attention to detail and the fact that she did not add details––e.g. making the fish a whale. I also appreciated that she explains why Jonah was sent to the city.
That said, however, I was frustrated that the book ended with Jonah repenting and agreeing to proclaim the message that God had given him. While this is what he did, he did so reluctantly and then he became upset with God when God decides not to destroy Nineveh. In other words, by concluding the story where she did, the author suggests that Jonah is a hero, when, in fact, he’s far from it. What is more, kids are left with the impression that the people of Nineveh did not repent and that God destroyed the city. In short, the story has been sanitized and made far more palatable––the tension, struggle and temper-tantrums of the drama that is found in the biblical text have been smoothed over (or vanished altogether) to make for a cute story for children.
The second aspect of the book that I’d like to address is the artwork. No doubt, Margaret Spengler is a gifted and accomplished illustrator. However, I found the artwork rather unspectacular. While the colors are bright, the pictures appear fuzzy and out-of-focus.
All in all, the book started out strong. In fact, a couple of pages in, I was convinced that this was going to be one of the best (and most accurate) age appropriate book on Jonah that I’ve seen. And, it is. Yet, sadly, the story concludes far too early. So the big question is: Would I purchase the book? The answer, sadly, is that I would not. While it had a great deal of promise, the artwork and the abrupt ending ruined what could have otherwise been an excellent age-appropriate retelling of the story of Jonah.