Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)
It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?
Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.
Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.
A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)
Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?
In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.
The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.
The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith (InfoSoup)
This riff on the Little Red Riding Hood story is filled with humor and twists that will delight. Little Red’s auntie has woken up with spots and so Little Red must cross the Savannah to bring her some medicine and some doughnuts. Little Red makes it past all sorts of animals until she stops in the shad of a tree. That’s when the Very Hungry Lion appears. When he asks Little Red where she is off to, the Lion hatches a plan that involves pretending to be her auntie and then eating both Little Red and her aunt. Little Red though is not fooled at all. So when she sees the Lion in her auntie’s clothes and in her bed, Little Red launches into action. Soon the Lion has a new hairstyle, has brushed his teeth and changed into a ruffled dress. The Lion though has had enough and roars. Little Red does not back down and soon a friendship is starting, with some strict rules in place.
Little Red is a great heroine. She is smart and fearless, facing down a hungry lion with stern warnings. It is also the humor of this book that works so well. The braiding of the Lion’s hair is a wonderful moment as is his changing clothes once again at Little Red’s insistence. It is in those moments that story becomes something new and fresh and where the audience will understand that this is a very different Little Red Riding Hood than in the original tale.
Smith’s art is zany and bright. The look on the Lion’s face is lovely, particularly when Little Red is forcing him to do things. Little Red pops on the page with her red dress and arching braids. She is particularly small next to the huge lion and still manages to hold her own on each page. Filled with humor and color, these are images that will work with groups of children very well.
One to roar about, add this to your twists on well-known tales or in any story time about lions. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lion Lessons by Jon Agee (InfoSoup)
A boy heads into a shop to take lessons in being a lion. First he has to don the appropriate outfit, complete with mane. His instructor is a professional and informs him that there are seven steps to becoming a lion. First though they have to stretch. The first step is looking fierce, but the boy’s poses don’t impress his teacher. The second step is roaring, but the he wasn’t loud enough. The third step was what to eat and the boy only wanted spaghetti, not the various animals. Prowling Around came next but the boy kept forgetting his tail. Sprinting had the boy running far up a hill and exhausted by the end. Pouncing didn’t work at all. Looking Out for Your Friends though suddenly had the boy acting a lot more lion-like than ever before!
I love Agee’s surreal picture book and his absurd look at life. This picture book is a delight with the farcical attempts of a boy trying to act like a lion alongside the stern professorial lion himself. The pairing of the two of them is wonderfully funny. Children will relate easily to the joy of pretending to be an animal and will see the humor in this much more formal way to learn something that is usually done so casually.
Agee’s illustrations are done in his signature style that is minimalist and effective. The illustrations are simple and will work well with a group thanks to their large format. There is plenty of humor in the illustrations as well, from the lion stretches as yoga poses to the glower of the lion himself. It is all filled with lovely timing too, all designed for maximum joy.
A great and surprising pick for back-to-school, this picture book will have them roaring with laughter. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins (InfoSoup)
There was once a hungry lion in a room in a large number of small animals like a penguin, a pig, a could of bunnies, a mouse, a frog, a bat and many more, including a turtle. But as you turn the pages, more and more animals no longer appear on the page. Soon there is only the pig, a bunny and the turtle. Then only the turtle. Then just the lion and then after looking right at the reader, the lion leaves too and everything goes dark. What do you think happens next?!
Reminiscent of Jon Klassen’s classic I Want My Hat Back, this picture book has a delightful darkness about it. Even better, it toys with that darkness, allowing readers to think all is well right before plunging them right back into it again. It’s rather like a picture book roller coaster ride that will have readers demanding to ride again immediately. Cummins paces the book cleverly, filling it with a sense of impending doom.
The art adds to the emotional twists and turns. Readers can watch the lion’s face for clues, since at times he is far too innocent to actually not have done something wrong. Other times, he appears completely villainous with arched brows and big teeth. Yet all along, things may not be as they seem adding to the delicious tickles of dread.
Dark and delightful, this picture book is one wild ride worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon
Released September 15, 2015.
Thurber’s profound story is brought to vivid life in this new picture book version. Tiger wakes up and decides that he wants to be king of the beasts, declaring to his wife that he will be king before the night is over. He believes that others are calling for change as well and that the moon will rise in his colors, striped and orange. Lion though is not willing to give up his title. The two start fighting and soon all of the animals in the jungle are fighting too, though many don’t know why they are fighting. Eventually after an immense battle, there is only one survivor, Tiger. He may be king, but there are no beasts to rule any more.
Yoon takes the words of Thurber and creates a picture book that is startling and incredible. She captures in expressions, the pride of declaring yourself to be a ruler, the shock of the old ruler being challenged. The epic battle is shown on pages that fold out to a four-page spread that brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica in its confusion and brutality. Done in only two colors, the green and orange capture the moist heat of the jungle. Though the illustrations appear to be prints, they are actually done with a combination of hand drawing and computer art. However it was done, it is pure brilliance.
A great book to spur discussion about war, pride and costs, this picture book will resonate with young readers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc
One day a lion discovers a hurt bird in his garden. He bandages the bird’s damaged wing, but then the rest of the bird’s flock flies away, migrating for the winter. So the lion takes the bird into his home. Throughout the winter, the bird and the lion spend each day together doing all sorts of things. And the lion notices that the winter doesn’t seem as cold with a friend along with him. Then spring arrives and the bird’s wing has mended, so the bird heads off to join its flock as they return for the warm weather. Lion is once again alone and now he misses his friend. Lion spends all summer alone, tending his garden. Then autumn comes again and Lion hopes to see his friend return, but will he?
Dubuc is a Canadian author who is internationally known. She has a decidedly European vibe to her work with its quietness and the message of larger things written in the small world she creates on the page. She cleverly shows the passing of the seasons using pages of white that allow space for the time to pass for the reader. The book is also a lovely riff on The Lion and the Mouse, except in this book the lion is the one doing the kindness for another creature and the payback of the kindness is more delicate in the form of friendship.
Dubuc’s art is exceptional. Her fine lines show both close-ups of the friends together and also vistas of the world they live in. There is a feeling of smallness, closeness and a limited world that Lion lives in. That contrasts with the bird leaving on migration and exiting this close world.
A noteworthy picture book, this new title by Dubuc is charming and warm. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens
Oh my, what a charmer of a book! It is the story of a lion who comes to town to buy a hat. But the people in town are afraid of him and chase him away. He runs off to hide in a yard under a dog house where he is discovered by a little girl named Iris. Iris immediately recognizes that he is a kind lion and invites him into her house. They did their best to keep him hidden and Iris took good care of him by brushing his mane and putting a bandage on his hurt foot. They also had a lot of fun, but that’s when they would almost be discovered. A lion bouncing on a bed makes a lot of noise! When Iris’ mother discovered the lion, the lion ran off. He hid with the stone lions in front of the Town Hall. While he was there, he saw two burglars leaving the Hall. After the lion saves the day, everyone in town realizes what a kind lion he actually is and present him with… a hat.
Stephens has created a picture book that has a simple appeal. The growing friendship between the lion and the little girl is done in a very organic and natural way. Humor is sprinkled throughout as the little girl attempts to hide the lion. Stephens also makes sure that even though the lion is kind, he is still completely a lion and an animal. The two main characters are wonderfully different and make for compelling characters especially when paired.
The art in the book reads as vintage with their bright color washes. The lines of the drawings are done with a light hand and are nicely simple. This is a book that would be right at home next to Lyle Crocodile. It reads immediately as a classic and hopefully will become one!
Too clever to be called sweet, this book is warm and friendly. A perfect book to share with your big cat at home or to curl up like a lion and listen to. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
It’s hard to be a carnivore when all of the prey whispers behind your back, nobody understands the way you eat, and you are accused of sneaking around. So a lion, a great white shark and a wolf get together to form a support group. Their first plan is to become vegetarians, but that doesn’t go well at all. In fact, the wolf can’t seem to find a berry bush that doesn’t have a bunny in it. The next plan is using disguises to blend in, but one smell of the lion’s zebra breath turns the antelope against him. Finally, the lion asked the great horned owl to speak with them. The owl talked about accepting themselves as carnivores. The others realize that he is right and follow his advice perfectly.
Reynolds has written a book that is screamingly funny. Each page has laughter on it with the perfect timing of his jokes. It begs to be shared aloud with punch lines that just have to be delivered. Happily, the humor is edgy and truly funny, not just for small children. With clever twists throughout the story and situations that make for very funny results, children will be delighted with this look at self-acceptance and meat eating.
Santat’s illustrations are perfection here. Bright colored and bold, just like the humor, they add just the right touch to the book. He manages to capture the comedy perfectly, but not allow his art to blow the punch lines prematurely. The large format will work well with a group, but there are also details that will have to be shared too.
Clever, funny and wonderfully inappropriate, this book asks us all to accept our inner or outer carnivores. Appropriate for ages 4-6, this would also work well as a read-aloud for older elementary kids who will love the humor and the naughtiness of the jokes.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.