Written and Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown and Company, 2009
Awards: Caldecott Medal
Who who whoooo
The plot in a nutshell: A lion spares a mouse, who returns the favor
A mouse runs out at night and is nearly caught by an owl. He runs away and finds himself caught, instead, by a huge lion. The lion considers the mouse and then lets him go. The mouse runs home to his happy family. The lion continues on his way through the jungle. Meanwhile, hunters set up a trap and the lion accidentally steps into it, suddenly finding himself suspended from a tree by heavy ropes. He lets out a mighty roar. The mouse hears it and comes to the aid of the lion, chewing through the ropes so he can escape. The mouse and lion regard each other appreciatively, and the mouse brings home one of the rope knots to his family to chew on.
The story of the lion and the mouse goes back to Aesop’s fables, so it dates back a couple of thousand years. It’s been told and retold over the years in lots of different forms, including poetry, song, theater and sculpture. Author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney first illustrated this story in his Aesop’s Fables, published in 2000. In an author’s note in this book, he states that this story stayed with him, leading him to create this gorgeous version, which is essentially wordless with the exception of sounds of the story’s animals.
The artwork, in pencil, watercolor and colored pencils, is truly stunning. He set this story in the African Serengeti and filled it with lush landscapes, zooming in or backing up to show us exactly what we need to see in the expressions or body language of the characters. The book’s jacket features a full face of the lion on the front and a full body drawing of the mouse on the back and when you open the book, they appear to be looking at each other. (Underneath the jacket, the hardcover also has the two faces and no words, mirroring the story inside.) There is an element of family to this story as well, with the mouse returning to his family and a final picture on the endpapers of the lion with his family (and the mouse’s family riding on his back). This book is a beautiful work of art.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that one kind gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Maybe even your own.