Lion and Mouse tale of heroes in all sizes

May 14, 2010 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York; 2009.

Jerry Pinkney’s wordless book is a masterpiece.  I don’t use that term loosely.  I don’t think I’ve used it at all in a review.  In retelling this Aesop fable, Pinkney chose to set the story on the Serengeti Plains of Africa.  His watercolor and colored pencil illustrations vibrate off the page as if affected by a heat mirage.  Sometimes a glance, sometimes a set of the mouth, tells the story.  The end pages lead us into life on the Serengeti and send us out of the story with lion and his family.

In between, the stories of two heroes are told simultaneously, and on occasion, their stories cross.  We know when we are following lion’s tale because he and his illustrations are larger than life, spilling off the pages; his royal grandness is expressed in excess.  He overflows the front cover with his regal being.  His rich gold tones and even the set of his mouth assure us that this is the king of the beasts.  But what is he glancing at?

As a contrast, the inconsequential life of mouse is told in small boxes which lend a sense of tension to his story and his existence.  Lion’s visage on the front cover is glancing at the back cover where little mouse sits tucked in the grasses of the Serengeti Plain.  Mouse seems to be smiling, and looking with–could it be?–gratitude at the benevolent king.  But don’t be fooled.  Mouse is as much the hero of the story as lion.

Although the book is wordless it is not without sound.  Pinkney added sound effects where appropriate to the story.  The ominous “who who whoooo” of the owl adds drama to mouse’s opening scene.  Even the tiny “scratch scratch” of mouse gnawing through the ropes that have entrapped lion help the story progress.  I could almost smell the sun-warmed grass on the plain, since Pinkney did such a remarkable job incorporating sight and sound.

Aesop’s tale is a story of kindness and courage.  Pinkney has captured the very essence in this Caldecott Medal winner for 2010.  It is, of course, a must-have for any library, as it is a Caldecott winner.  However, it’s value lies in its very being.  In a story time, guide the children to tell the story based on what they observe in each picture, on each page.  Perhaps, with older children, following this book with the story as told by Aesop would be interesting, allow them to compare and contrast the stories: their rendition, Pinkney’s intended story, and the original fable.  I think it would also be terrific to create a take-home box that includes a collection of Aesop’s fables, this title, and even Pinkney’s retelling of some of Aesop’s other tales.  A pathfinder to accompany the box may include the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s collection of Aesop’s fables (, a website with all of the fables in one place and a little history of Aesop himself.


Entry filed under: Caldecott Award or Honor Book, Picture Book, Wordless Book. Tags: , , , , .

And the winners of the 2010 Children’s Choice Awards are… Ling & Ting: Sometimes it’s OK to spot the differences

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