Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert
This classic Aesop fable is told with exceptional ease. The story focuses more on Mouse than other versions, even giving him top billing in the title. Mouse scampers right over Lion before he even realizes he is not a mountain. And as the tale goes, Lion grants Mouse a reprieve from being eaten and sends him on his way. In this story, Lion is captured in a hunter’s net and Mouse gnaws him free. Set in Africa, this story features a four-striped African grass mouse rather than the expected little brown mouse. Combined with the baobab trees, it all works to evoke Africa completely.
Burkert’s text is beautifully done. At first blush, his writing reads aloud so well that it seems simple. But instead it is just written by a storyteller, who realizes exactly how words play and how to create a mood. When Lion has captured Mouse, there is a gorgeous moment when Burkert leaves Mouse literally dangling:
Mouse spun slowly as he dangled. He dangled as he spun. He squinted into Lion’s mouth, feeling his warm breath, noting his yellowed teeth.
This is just one of many such times when the writing sings, the moment stretches, and the story is illuminated.
Add to this skilled writing, the illustrations and you have quite the book. The illustrations are strong at the same time they are delicate. Done with fine lines, each hair on the animals is individual. Mouse’s nose and whiskers seem to twitch. Lion seems to snore. There is life here in these illustrations, life that moves and breathes. The illustrations are captivating.
Who would think that after last year’s Caldecott Award winner, libraries would want another version of Aesop’s fable. They definitely should get this one with its beautiful combination of writing and illustration. It too is a winner. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Also reviewed by Cracking the Cover.