LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes(Candlewick) There are some books you like and some books you just love, L-O-V-E, the kind of book that makes a school librarian's heart beat faster and count the days until September...and this is one of them. This wonderful story is the account of a lion who wanders into the library and is actually an ideal patron, once he learns that loud roaring is against the rules. When uber-librarian Miss Merriweather takes a tumble from her step-stool and all demure Lassie-like attempts to get help by the lion fail, he resorts to rule-breaking, offending an anti-lion administrator who has been waiting for just such an occasion to banish our hero. Will he ever be invited to the library again? Miss Merriweather steals the show with her unrelenting references to the library rules even in the most dire circumstances. Hawkes' gentle pencil and watercolor illustrations are sweet perfection, funny and expressive. Not since Maurice Sendak's PIERRE have we encountered a more forgivable feline! And if you have ever wondered why there are lions in front of libraries, this book offers a fine (albeit fictional) answer (more info about the lions in front of the New York Public Library by clicking here). Teachers and librarians can use this book as a tool for discussing and developing rules at the start of the school year, and anyone can use this book as an example of delightful storytelling and what a children's book should be. (5 and up) For a full-fledged storytime, combine with DANDELION by Don Freeman (author also of the classic CORDUROY, both published by Penguin), about the lion who learns the hard way that he need only be himself to recieve an invitation to an exclusive tea-and-taffy party (4 and up), and the Caldecott-honor winning ANDY AND THE LION by James Daugherty (Penguin), a down-home spin on Androlocles in which a boy removes a thorn from a lion's paw and saves the day at the circus, all thanks to a library book about lions. (This book is special in my heart, because I remember a particular fifth grade boy who loved my copy of this book so much that he carried it around until it was literally ragged and I had to get him his own copy to love.) (5 and up)
Also of interest: I have felt for a long time that Kevin Hawkes was due for some Caldecott attention, and if he doesn't get a nod this year between LIBRARY LION and the charming WHEN GIANTS COME TO PLAY by first-time author Andrea Beaty (Abrams)(4 and up), I just don't know what! By the way, if you read this book aloud, for a treat you can serve tea and giant rings (doughnuts) afterwards. It is also a great picture-book preface to Roald Dahl's THE BFG or Julia Donaldson's THE GIANTS AND THE JONESES (which I strongly recommended a few blog entries back, I certainly hope you listened to me).