Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pickney

Jerry Pickney retells the original Aesop fable, The Lion and the Mouse. In his first wordless book, Pickney tells the story of a mouse, who, both exchange acts of kindness for one another.

"It did not start out, the intent was not for it be be wordless. As a matter of fact, I thought that this story was so clear in my mind that I would actually start the process of doing thumbnail sketches then adding the text later. So the story is visually narratively driven, and I think that's what you find in it. Not only telling the story of the lion and the mouse, but also the story of what attracted me to the Serengeti, the African Serengeti."

Pickney's illustrations clearly demonstrate his wealth of knowledge of the Serengeti. His carefully sequenced images of the characters develop the closeness of their relationship, as the close-up images that are seen throughout note the lion and mouse as the protagonists of the story, as they appear to be realistic. In an author's note, Pickney explains that he set the story in the Serengeti, "with its wide horizon and abundant wildlife so awesome yet fragile, not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes."

Pickney's pencil work, coupled with the watercolor images create a characters that fit well into its surroundings, while also using perspective to see the Serengeti through the mouse and lion's eyes. The interview from Reading Rockets continues, "I wanted them to be anthropomorphic, but in a way that suggested the true nature and the character of a lion, and a true nature and a true character of a mouse. And in doing so I had to straddle a fence making them respond in a kind of natural way, but the reader to understand what they were responding to."

The symoblic meaning behind the lion and the mouse is something that is valued by this popular tale. "The lion, while strong and powerful, does not harm the small, defenseless mouse after it scurries away from an owl. In return for this kindness, the mouse comes the rescue of the lion by chewing through the roped snare that captured him. As many fables have a moral, in the story of the lion of the mouse the reader does not know why the lion lets the mouse free or why the mouse saves the lion by setting him free." Perhaps, it's the acts of kindness and the actions represented in the pictures that becomes the moral of this popular, and thought-provoking fable.

Although this was a retelling, Jeff Pickney's version of this tale forced me to re-evaluate my own knowledge of fables. It is amazing how a wordless book can drive the story right out of its illustrations. The ability to interact with the text between a teacher and a student or a mother and a child is the beauty of what resonates from these types of storybooks. And it will be a storybook and lesson that a child will live by, and never forget.

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