Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - review

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney is a god. I think that's my whole review. No, wait, I have to mention that this book is wordless (except for beautifully lettered onomatopoeia incorporated into the paintings).

In a year when Jerry Pinkney also illustrated The Moon Over Star, I think he is his own stiffest competition for a Caldecott.


PaulaG said...

I agree, the man's work is in a class all its own. This is my Caldecott front runner.

Luckily, Moon Over Star was 2008. No Caldecott, but Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

Aaron Mead said...

The Lion and the Mouse is such a wonderful book. So glad it won the Caldecott.

I think the most striking thing about it for me is the space Pinkney opens up for a subtle reinterpretation of the traditional moral of Aesop’s fable. The traditional moral: “Little friends may prove great friends.” Traditionally, then, the story is meant to embolden the meek (“You may be a great friend one day!”) and to encourage the proud to look out for the little guy.

However, in Pinkney’s version, the moral is not so tightly constrained, largely because the only words Pinkney uses are onomatopoeias. This textually minimal approach lets the story breath in new ways, broadening the possibilities for the story’s moral. While the range of possibilities still includes the traditional moral, in my view the most obvious teaching of Pinkney’s version seems to be that mercy is a virtue. In other words, the moral of Pinkney’s version is that mercy is a good character trait that human beings ought to embody.

The central aspect of Pinkney’s version that shifts the book toward this interpretation is that since there is no dialogue, we do not get the lion laughing derisively when the mouse suggests that the lion may need her help one day. Rather, all we see is the lion letting the mouse go free, which looks more like an act of mercy than an act inspired by the lion’s arrogant amusement (as in the traditional telling). Moreover, as a result, the mouse’s liberating action looks less like mere payback and more like mercy as well.