Filling the front cover is the massive head of a lion, its eyes glancing off to your left. What's he looking at? Turn to the back cover, and you'll see: a brown mouse sitting on a branch in the yellow grass. Notice what's missing? There's no title or author on the front or the back cover. Only on the spine will you find that information. Back in 1990, Fred Marcellino won a Caldecott Honor for his book, Puss in Boots. It, too, had no title or author on the front cover (though they were on the back). In Pinkney's dignified "retelling" of the Aesop fable about the lion that spares a mouse and is, in turn, saved by it, the story is told almost entirely in oversized watercolor illustrations. There are a few animal sounds like the "Screeeech" of an owl as it swoops down at dusk to catch the little brown mouse. In fleeing, the mouse finds itself on the back of a male lion that picks it up by the tail. There's a masterful close-up spread of the lion, cupping the mouse in its paw, and looking almost compassionate. On the next page, the lion allows the mouse to escape, and it runs back to its den where little ones await, squeaking. The lion strides off, afraid of no animal on the African Serengeti. On the next page, a jeep with a cage built on the back putt-putt-putts down the dirt road, and two white men in safari gear set up a heavy net. Uh, oh. The lion is soon ensnared in the net; seeing his mouth open in anger and terror, you can feel his fury and imagine his roar. Hearing him, the mouse runs back to help, gnawing the heavy ropes, freeing the lion, and hurrying home to the kids. And just look at the back endpapers, with the lion and his family out for a stroll. What's on his back? Nine mouse babies and their mama, the hero!
THEMES: ANIMALS. FOLKLORE. MICE. STORIES WITHOUT WORDS.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
Suggested Ages: 2-8