Written by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Dan Santat
Chronicle Books, 2013
The lion is known throughout the animal kingdom as the “King of Beasts.”
The plot in a nutshell: Carnivores deal with their bad reputation.
This book concerns itself with three major carnivorous predators from three different habitats – the lion, the shark and the timber wolf. All three are upset about the way that other animals perceive them and they feel misunderstood. At first, they try to change their ways and make an attempt to be vegetarians, but that doesn’t work well for any of them. Then they try disguises, but their tendency to eat the animals they’re pretending to be makes that tough to pull off. They consult with the wise old owl, who explains to them that being carnivorous isn’t bad and that it’s just a part of who they are. They appreciate this advice and (after consuming the owl) learn to embrace their meat-eating sides.
Author Aaron Reynolds brings a delightfully devious sense of humor to this story that I can only imagine is protested regularly by vegetarian parents everywhere. I mean, Mr. Reynolds is not just saying that carnivores eat meat and it’s part of the circle of life, blah, blah, blah. He’s giving them higher intelligence and a sense of ethics and even, in some cases, a personal relationship with their prey. It’s a pretty courageous concept to put into a picture book, but I think it really works because of the comical way that it’s presented.
A lot of that comic appeal comes from Dan Santat’s wonderful illustrations, which show us the transition in these three characters as they move from feeling insecure and self-conscious to becoming confident and predatory. His gift for drawing facial expressions that give real insight into these characters is front and center here, both in his renditions of the carnivores and the poor rabbits, fish and antelopes that end up on their menus. If you’re a hardcore vegetarian, you may not find the humor to be appropriate, but me and my meat-eating self found it hilarious. If your little one enjoys it, you can find an activity book at the Chronicle Books website.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are some things about yourself that make you who you are and when you can’t change them or hide them, you might as well embrace them.