The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

  • Title: The Lion and the Mouse
  • Author: Jerry Pinkney
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Year Published: 2009
  • ISBN: 0316013567
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 40
  • Age Range: 3+
  • Genre: fable
  • Award(s): Caldecott Medal Winner; more here.

Author information: Jerry Pinkney has illustrated over one hundred titles for children, and has won five Coretta Scott King awards, five Caldecott Honors and one Medal, and has been elected into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. His website has his biography and contact information, lists of all of his works, a list of awards he and his books have won, videos of interviews and speeches he has given, and information about his studio and exhibitions. He also has a section titled “what’s new” in which he discusses recently released titles, recent awards and recognition, and recent activities, such as his recent invitation to participate in an exhibition for the United States Embassy in Congo, Brazzaville.

Reviews: Everyone went crazy for this book. It received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and the Horn Book. Each of these reviews commented on the beauty of Pinkney’s illustrations and how his choice of making this book wordless enhanced the story. SLJ says, “Pinkney’s luminous art, rendered in watercolor and colored pencil, suggests a natural harmony… The ambiguity that results from the lack of words in this version allows for a slower, subtle, and ultimately more satisfying read.”

Readers annotation: Sometimes, a little kindness makes a big difference.

Summary: The book is a visual retelling of the fable about the lion and the mouse. The mouse, trying to escape from an owl, finds himself on the tail of a lion. The lion picks up the mouse, but decides to let her go, and she returns to her family. Later, the lion is caught in a net that has be laid by trappers, and when the mouse sees this she goes to help. She chews through the ropes of the net so that the lion can go free, and they exchange a look of gratitude and understanding before going their separate ways.

Evaluation: The artwork in this book is flawless, and captures the reader’s imagination immediately and thoroughly. Although there are no words in this book, Pinkney does a marvelous job of moving the plot along through his illustrations, and the plot is clear and easy to follow even without the use of words. The moral of the story, about how helping someone is not only the right thing to do but can also come back and help you in the future, comes through clearly as well. The pacing of the book is well done and builds tension, both when the mouse finds herself on the lion’s tail, and when the lion is trapped in the net. The illustrations are lusciously detailed and make the reader want to linger on each page, or begin reading the book again as soom as he finishes it. The use of golds, browns, greens, and other earth tones provides a great sense of setting for the book, and makes the reader feel as though he is on the plains with these animals on a bright and sunny day. Even the endpapers for this book are a delight; the front inside cover portrays a rich landscape full of African animals, and the back inside cover shows the lion reunited with his mate and cubs. This book is a complete delight and one that can and should be read over and over again.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork is nothing short of magical. Pinkney makes this fable come alive with rich detail and the story is clear even without the use of words.
  • Popularity: 5/5 Even the most picky of children will be mesmerized by the illustrations and eager to know what happens next in the story. The happy ending and positive moral will appeal to readers of all ages, and this book holds up to multiple readings well, as the intricacy of the artwork always leaves something to discover.
  • Appeal factors: anthropomorphic animals, fables, detailed illustration, happy ending.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Readers who enjoyed the detailed and wordless storytelling of this book may also like Journey by Aaron Becker. This book also has intricate illustrations and a whimsical tone and allows readers to imagine the dialogue and narrative themselves.
  2. Jerry Pinkney’s most recent release, The Tortoise and the Hare, is a natural suggestion for readers who love Pinkney’s lush illustrations and his wordless fable retellings (although this title does include a very small number of words, most pages are wordless).

Book talk ideas: The artwork is the star of the show, so show the cover or one of the illustrations and have potential readers talk about what they notice and what they like. Ask them if any of them know who Aesop was or what a fable is, and then explain that it is a short story, usually with anthropomorphic animals, that has a moral at the end. Tell them that this fable is about a lion who does not eat a little mouse when he has a chance, and then the mouse has the opportunity to pay him back later in the story. Ask them if they’ve ever done something nice for someone and later were repaid in kindness.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. Why do you think the lion let the mouse go?
  2. The mouse decides to help the lion when he gets caught in a net. Why? Would you have done the same thing?
  3. What is the moral of this story?

Reason for reading: Once I saw the cover of this book, there was no question in my mind that I would read it for this assignment. The cover is hypnotizing–I can stare at it repeatedly without getting bored and continue to find details I missed before. The cover does not even include the title of the book or the author’s name, it is just a gigantic image of the lion’s face and mane. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how utterly mesmerizing and luscious I find this cover (and the artwork in between the covers as well) and it’s no wonder that this won the Caldecott medal.

Additional relevant information: On his website, Pinkney addresses the difficulties he had in school due to undiagnosed dyslexia and his struggles because of it as well as his story about how he learned to persevere in spite of it and find different ways to learn and interact. He concludes by letting readers know that they can overcome this obstacle, saying, “For the young person who is struggling in school, never forget there are many different ways to learn.  Be curious.  Do not be afraid to try.  Do not be disappointed when making mistakes.  You will discover your own unique way of understanding the things being taught.  Learn from mistakes.  Everything that happens to you will frame who you are, and who you will become.  Your path to success will follow.”

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