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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Lion and the Mouse

lion and the mouse jerry pinkney wordless picture book reviewThe Lion and the Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney
Ages 4-8

Caldecott Medal 2010

Jerry Pinkney needs no introduction to children's books fans, I am sure. In this book, his art speaks for itself without the aid of any words.

And, the story probably needs no introduction either: it is the classic fable of the mighty lion sparing a little mouse contrary to his character, forgoing his meal however meager; and in return, the little mouse coming to the lion's aid at the crucial time, to save his life.

It is quite challenging to present a story with just illustrations, no text. The Lion and The Mouse does this quite artistically and successfully. Vivid, expressive watercolors fill the pages, silently moving the story forward in a fluid and dynamic way rather than depicting instant snapshots of the events frozen in time.

I was blown away by the fine details. The intense expressions and the varied perspectives are beautifully rendered to tell an engaging story, while distinctly retaining the innate nature of each of the two protagonists. This is not a quick read. The pages can hold our attention for several minutes, encouraging us to register every detail, placed there by no accident.

The artist's note at the back explains that he chose to set the book in Africa's Serengeti, 'with its wide horizon and abundant wildlife so awesome yet fragile — not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes'.

In the opening page, scuttling to safety from a large predatory owl, a mouse inadvertently finds himself under a huge paw, an easy snack for the mighty lion. This starts our adventure into this age-old fable, retold with warmth and spirit.

Kindness offered is kindness earned. The benevolence and grace that the mighty lion shows to the feeble mouse comes right back to him, sealing an unlikely friendship. No matter how small, a friend in need is a friend indeed.

The lion striding with his mate and cubs at the end is rendered all the more irresistible when we notice the mouse, his mate, and his brood riding piggyback on this majestic beast. The playfulness of the little mice and the cubs complement the regal bearing and harmony the creatures have come to share.

My 4¾ year old managed to glean the story easily, pointing to elements she is familiar with, without really wondering about the absence of words. And, my 1¾ year old probably didn't even notice that each time one of us "read" the book to him, it sounded different... but conveyed the same thing.

[picture courtesy of Jerry Pinkney Studio]

[this post written for Saffron Tree]

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