Module 5 — Picture Book

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney


Pinkney, J.  (2009).  The lion and the mouse.  New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.


A wordless retelling of Aesop’s fable, this is the story of how a lion and a mouse become friends through separate acts of kindness.  When a lion decides to release a mouse that has woken him from a nap, he is unaware that the same mouse will later save him from a cruel trap.  Explaining the origins of the book, Pinkney writes in a preface, “Since most retelling of the fable are sparse in text, a wordless version seemed quite natural; yet these engaging characters led me to make the story even fuller by providing a sense of family and setting.”  He sets the story in the African Serengeti, and the expansive scope of many of the illustrations places these animals in the midst of a vast landscape teeming with life.

My Impressions

The pictures in The Lion and the Mouse are so expressive that words really are not necessary.  The words that are included are sound effects, adding another texture to the story to further immerse the reader in the atmosphere of African grasslands.  I think that Pinkney took great care to make each picture add to both the story and the characters of the lion and mouse, making both the principal characters more rounded and developed.   This book is beautiful to look at and also shows the values of kindness and friendship without hitting the reader over the head with the story’s well-known moral.


Lukehart, W. (2009, Sept. 1). [Review of the book The lion and the mouse]. School Library Journal, 55, 146.

/* Starred Review */ PreS-Gr 3— This story starts on the cover with the glorious, golden countenance of a lion. No text is necessary to communicate the title: the direction of the beast’s gaze and the conflicted expression on his tightly cropped face compel readers to turn the book over, where a mouse, almost filling the vertical space, glances back. The endpapers and artist’s note place these creatures among the animal families of the African Serengeti. Each spread contributes something new in this nearly wordless narrative, including the title opening, on which the watchful rodent pauses, resting in one of the large footprints that marches across the gutter. In some scenes, Pinkney’s luminous art, rendered in watercolor and colored pencil, suggests a natural harmony, as when the cool blues of the sky are mirrored in the rocks and acacia tree. In other compositions, a cream-colored background focuses attention on the exquisitely detailed and nuanced forms of the two main characters. Varied perspectives and the judicious use of panels create interest and indicate time. Sounds are used sparingly and purposefully—an owl’s hoot to hint at offstage danger or an anguished roar to alert the mouse of the lion’s entrapment. Contrast this version with Pinkney’s traditional treatment of the same story (complete with moral) in Aesop’s Fables (North-South, 2000). 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.

[Review of The lion and the mouse]. (2009, July 27). Publishers Weekly, 256, 61.

/* Starred Review */ Other than some squeaks, hoots and one enormous roar, Pinkney’s (Little Red Riding Hood ) interpretation of Aesop’s fable is wordless—as is its striking cover, which features only a head-on portrait of the lion’s face. Mottled, tawny illustrations show a mouse unwittingly taking refuge on a lion’s back as it scurries away from an owl. The large beast grabs and then releases the tiny creature, who later frees the lion who has become tangled in a hunter’s snare. Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship with another universal theme—family—affectingly illustrated in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back. Pinkney’s artist’s note explains that he set the book in Africa’s Serengeti, “with its wide horizon and abundant wildlife so awesome yet fragile—not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes.” Additional African species grace splendid panoramas that balance the many finely detailed, closeup images of the protagonists. Pinkney has no need for words; his art speaks eloquently for itself. Ages 3–6.

Using in the Library

The only words that appear in this book are sound effects (or onomatopoeia).  Not that it would have been a good idea for the book, but what if Pinkney had decided to include dialogue between the lion and the mouse.  Have students write dialogue for various pictures in the book, writing dialogue bubbles on post-it notes and placing each bubble by a character in the appropriate page in the book.  Multiple bubbles could be placed on each picture and students could take turns reading the dialogue and discussing their favorite lines.

Have students write sentences on strips of paper to summarize six or seven events of the story shown in various pictures.   Collect the strips of paper, scramble each set to change the order of events, and redistribute the strips of paper.  Students then place the events in sequence.


About Boyd Waltman

Boyd Waltman is a film editor in Houston, Texas.
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