Library Lion...a Book Review
By Michelle Knudsen, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
A Picture Book from Candlewick Press, 2006.
Hardcover – ISBN: 978-0-7636-2262-6; 48 Pages; Dust Jacket.
For ages: 4-8
A book review by Marianne Plumridge.
I’ve never really given up my fascination for children’s picture books, even now being all grown up. Only now, I collect them – and on occasion, write them. Sometimes the artwork is gorgeous and artistic; sometimes the artwork is just too charming; sometimes the story is irresistible and fresh; or sometimes a book hits just the right place in the heart. But the best books are all of these things. Award winning, New York Times Bestseller, ‘Library Lion’ happens to be one of the best ones.
It’s a simple story. A lion walks into the library one day. Just like a child in a new place, he likes to look around. Then satisfied, he settles in for nap. A wondrous thing called ‘Story Hour’ wakes him up, and he sits just as entranced as the children and listens to each book the Story Lady reads aloud. People are a bit nervous and wary of this large furry visitor, but as he seems to be behaving himself, they go on with what they were doing. Mr McBee from Circulations is incensed. There are no rules about lions in the Library. He complains to the Librarian, Miss Merriweather. She asks if the lion is doing anything against the rules. Mr McBee says no, so Miss Merriweather tells her colleague to leave him be.
Things go well until Story Hour ends. The lion, upset, roars and roars, bringing Miss Merriweather from her office. She sternly tells the lion that if he can’t follow the rules, then he’ll have to leave, which makes the lion even more upset. Finally a child pipes up with an idea: if the lion is quiet, then he could come back tomorrow. The tension is palpable until Miss Merriweather graciously agrees.
The lion comes back the next day – early. Miss Merriweather gets him to help with a few things, and then ensuing days, the lion helps out on his own. People grow to love him and wonder what they ever did without him. Mr McBee is not happy: the Library did quite well without a lion in the past. One day, Miss Merriweather has an accident and sends the lion for help. Mr McBee ignores him and is cross with him until the lion ROARS in his face. Knowing he has done wrong, the lion slinks out the front door, while Mr McBee walks swiftly to Miss Merriweather’s office yelling about the lion breaking the rules. When he gets there and finds Miss Merriweather lying on the floor, she tells him that sometimes there are very good reasons to break the rules. The next day, things are back to normal – almost. Miss Merriweather was looking forward to her lion helping her with her work, because her arm is broken. However, there is no lion. He didn’t come back. Day after day, people look for him, and the children miss him, but Miss Merriweather is the saddest of all. She really misses her furry friend and helper. Mr McBee witnesses this. He is not an unkind or mean man, and so to make Miss Merriweather feel better, he goes looking for the lion. When he finds him sitting in the rain and looking woefully in through the library window, Mr McBee informs the lion of a new library rule: “no roaring allowed, unless there’s a very good reason…say, to help a friend who has been hurt.” The next day, Mr McBee reports to sad Miss Merriweather that there is a lion in the library. She ups and runs – breaking several library rules herself – to joyfully greet her friend. Everything is now happy in the Library.
The themes in this book are ostensibly about ‘rules’, and when to obey them, when you might not have to obey them, and when, most importantly, the rare times when they might be broken. This sets up behavioral patterns for children and adults alike – since Library rules apply to both. The fact that it is a LION, a very unusual visitor, that comes to the library, even the library staff are unsure what to do. In the end, they treat him just like all of the other library visitors – as long as he obeys the rules. One could very easily replace the lion with any new stranger-child and the story would still read true. Just not as interesting or fun.
Underlying the obvious theme, there are a couple of others whose subtlety places them under the ‘radar’. I refer to ‘acceptance’, ‘tolerance’, ‘jealousy’, ‘courage’ and ‘knowing when you’ve been wrong and doing something about it – another kind of courage’. All of these things are deftly woven into the fabric of the text: as much to underline the fact that there is more going on around you than meets the eye, as well as tell a story. The whole thing is very well rounded.
This is a wondrously positive book, and deserving of all its awards and large readership. The narrative is well paced and lively – for a library. The plot about a friendly lion volunteering in a library just to be allowed to listen to stories, and make friends along the way just tickles the funny bone. The accompanying illustrations by Kevin Hawkes are just as charming. Beautiful and so, so nostalgic, they engage the reader equally as much as the text does. And so it should be in a great picture book…
I highly recommend this to readers of all ages – but especially those who love libraries..
More about the illustrator can be found at: www.kevinhawkes.com
More about the writer can be found at: www.michelleknudsen.com