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Top 100 Picture Books #37: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

#37 The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (2009)
47 points

I love David Wiesner, but as funny as his wordless books are, none of them match this one for the combined power of the storytelling and sheer beauty of the drawings. One of the most deserving Caldecott winners ever. – Mark Flowers

I approach this book with such reverence when I pull it of the shelf. It’s a masterpiece. – Aaron Zenz

Stunning. – Stacy Dillon

Caldecott Award decisions are mysterious things.  No one on a given committee is allowed to talk about what was said or what went down.  I have no information about the 2010 committee that handed Jerry Pinkney his first, long overdue, Caldecott Medal.  If I were to hazard a guess I would have to believe that their deliberations must have been short.  Everyone in 2009 knew that Pinkney was the frontrunner.  If it hadn’t won, great torrents of blood would have been shed.

The plot as written in my review reads, “Set against the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya, a single small mouse escapes the claws of a hungry owl, only to find herself trapped within the paw of a huge lion. On a whim, the lion lets the mouse go and then sets about his merry way. Unfortunately, poachers have been putting up traps, and before he knows it the lion is caught and bound in nasty ropes, high above the ground. To his rescue comes the little mouse, and she nibbles the ropes until they give way and free the lion. In her mouth she leaves with one of the knots of rope, which she gives her family of tiny babies at home to play with. On the final endpapers, the lion and his family of cubs prowl with the mouse and her family safely ensconced on the lion’s back.”

Smart, Mr. Pinkney.  Clever, Mr. Pinkney.  Little, Brown has a weakness for a titleless cover (see: Eggs) so I’m not surprised that they took a chance on this one.  The fact is, though, that without a title the cover is all the more impressive.  A great big gorgeous lion seen head-on in raucous waves of orange, yellow, brown, and gold.  Cleverer still is to turn it over and see the mouse on the back, blown up so that it fills the back cover just as the lion fills the front.  When the book is opened up, the two end up looking at one another, and both appear on the spine.  Nice.

Lest you forget, this book does NOT mark the first time Pinkney has illustrated this story. Recall well his illustrated story in the book Aesop’s Fables. You can see how similar his old lion and mouse team are to this new lion and mouse team here.

PW said, “Pinkney has no need for words; his art speaks eloquently for itself.”

SLJ said, “The ambiguity that results from the lack of words in this version allows for a slower, subtle, and ultimately more satisfying read. Moments of humor and affection complement the drama. A classic tale from a consummate artist.”

Booklist said, “Pinkney’s soft, multihued strokes make everything in the jungle seem alive, right down to the rocks, as he bleeds color to indicate movement, for instance, when the lion falls free from the net. His luxuriant use of close-ups humanizes his animal characters without idealizing them, and that’s no mean feat.”

Horn Book said, “On the front of the book itself is a second pair of telling portraits in lieu of a title; there’s an African Peaceable Kingdom on the back. One endpaper celebrates the animal-crowded Serengeti setting; the second rounds out the story with the lion and mouse families on a shared outing. It will be a challenge for libraries to make every gorgeous surface available, but it’s a challenge worth taking on.”

Kirkus called it, “A nearly wordless exploration of Aesop’s fable of symbiotic mercy that is nothing short of masterful.”

Jerry discusses the book here:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. And be sure to click through to the gallery of people Lioning themselves. My lion is math savvy and wearing my prime factorization sweater. 🙂

    This book winning the Caldecott made me so happy. I wasn’t thinking of such current books when I made my Top 10 list, but I’m so glad other people were, because this book is going to last through the ages.

  2. Mr. Pinkney can handle watercolors like no one in the field.