Saturday, November 3, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

It's Day 3 of Picture Book Month, and what's on my mind today is story. Sure, picture books are all about illustrations, but the story's pretty important too, right? Word choice had better be spot on in a picture book, nothing out of place because you're communicating a narrative all in the scantest of lines. I don't know about you, but if there are more than a few paragraphs on each page, I'm sure to have a restless little one on my hands, and then we're off to find another choice. So the first credo of picture book writers would seem to be choose your words carefully.

But what if you decide not to choose your words at all? I'm speaking, of course, about wordless picture books, something that might not immediately seem strong in narrative, but which have a hidden strength that goes beyond the written word. You see what's so great about wordless books is that you get to tell the story any way you want to. Kids love this - it's what they do, after all, as pre-readers when they sit down to "read" a book to their stuffies. And with the wordless picture book, adults get to experience that phenomenon too. The book's creator gives us the framework within which we can emphasize whatever aspects and nuance seem most significant to us.

In our home library, one wordless book in particular stands out, and for good reason - it's easily one of the best examples of the genre out there. I'm speaking of Jerry Pinkney's The Lion & the Mouse, a Caldecott Award Winner and all-around gorgeous piece of graphic storytelling.

The plot is of course based on the fable by Aesop, wherein a tiny mouse is captured by a lion who then, for whatever reason, lets the mouse go. And soon the lion finds himself in trouble, as he is ensnared by hunters - but the little mouse and his friends come to the rescue, chewing through the net that holds the lion and setting the mighty king of the jungle free. As in all fables, we have a lesson to take away: always perform an act of kindness when you have the opportunity, for you never know when you will need kindness in return.

In Pinkney's skilled control, the narrative becomes so much more. Honestly, if you're looking for visual splendor you couldn't do better. Even the end pages are a feast for the eyes, as we're taken immediately into the landscape of Eastern Africa, where Pinkney's version is set. Young readers will love poring over the detail of each page, noticing the curls in the lion's mane or the spiderweb clinging to a strand of grass. And they'll revel in the chance to tell you a story, if you let them - one time through is all most kids are likely to need before they want to relate the tale in their own words, a recounting that's never the same twice.

Linger over the experience of The Lion & the Mouse together, for it really is the kind of book you want to visit again and again.

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown

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