Creatures great and small
Winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal
Jerry Pinkney’s latest picture book is an absolutely gorgeous example of book making and pictorial storytelling, a wordless book readers will “read” over and over again, each time noticing new treasures in the pictures. The dust jacket places the lion and the mouse head-to-head, the lion on the front cover, the mouse on the back. Take off the dust jacket, and there are additional images: the lion and the mouse on the front cover, still eyeing each other, and on the back cover an African Serengeti group portrait. In the front endpapers, the animals are up, out of their group picture, wandering the Serengeti, the big lion yawning amidst his family.
Turn the page, and the mouse is introduced, standing in a lion’s footprint. And the story proceeds, succeeding brilliantly in what the best picture books are all about—the drama of the turning page. An owl scares the mouse, the mouse runs off and ends up dangling upside down in the clutches of the great lion. This is not a completely wordless book, as there’s a “Grrr” and a “Squeak” here, and other animal sounds and the “putt-putt-putt” of a jeep elsewhere. In a full-page spread, the lion contemplates the mouse, and in the following spread he lowers his paw and lets the mouse return to her family. In the meantime, poachers set their trap, the lion steps into it, and the mouse’s chance to be courageous and repay the lion’s kindness is set up.
In an artist’s note, Pinkney discusses how he was able to capture on the book’s jacket the “powerful space and presence” of both the lion and the mouse. That phrase perfectly captures what makes this book so striking—the space and presence the characters command on the page, and by the end of the tale, the meek mouse and the mighty lion, two spirited creatures in their own ways, have some good family time together, the back endpapers depicting the mouse family hitching a ride on the lion’s back for a stroll on the Serengeti.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.