Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Library Lion

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

I recent­ly read about a series of get-to-know-you games to play with kids. One sug­gest­ed mak­ing a list of hard and fast rules that every­one could agree to — a series of sen­si­ble pro­hi­bi­tions, per­haps — and then tak­ing turns think­ing of the excep­tions to those rules.

RULE:  No run­ning in the hall­ways. EXCEPTION: Run if the build­ing is on fire.

RULE: Only qui­et voic­es in the library. EXCEPTION: Shout as loud as you can if there is an emer­gency.

Library Lion cover

by Michelle Knud­sen illus­tra­tions: Kevin Hawkes Can­dlewick, 2006

Vari­a­tions on these two rules appear in Library Lion, one of my favorite pic­ture books ever. And I wish I’d had this book when my two rule-fol­low­ers were lit­tle — it might’ve helped us play the game above.

I was quite smit­ten with Library Lion the first time I saw it. Some­thing about the cov­er evokes a nos­tal­gic feel­ing for me — the illus­tra­tions by Kevin Hawkes are done in a soft palate of acrylics and pen­cil. The gigan­tic lion calm­ly read­ing over the shoul­der of a young girl looks entire­ly plau­si­ble.

The sto­ry, too, some­how feels plau­si­ble. You don’t ques­tion it at all when you read on page one: “One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the cir­cu­la­tion desk and up into the stacks.”

I have made the mis­take, while read­ing to a group of chil­dren, of say­ing, “Can you believe it? A lion in the library!” They look at me with weari­ness, their faces clear­ly say­ing, “Hush up, Sto­ry Lady. Just keep read­ing.”

Only Mr. McBee ques­tions the pro­pri­ety of the lion. Not Miss Mer­ri­weath­er. (Could there be more per­fect names for {nos­tal­gi­cal­ly stereo­typ­i­cal} librar­i­ans? I think not.) Miss Mer­ri­weath­er is as calm as Mr. McBee is ner­vous. “‘Is he break­ing any rules?’” she asks. Mr. McBee, obvi­ous­ly famil­iar with the rules and their impor­tance, admits that the lion has not tres­passed in any way. “‘Then leave him be,’” says the unflap­pable Miss Mer­ri­weath­er.

Gor­geous spreads of the lion’s pres­ence and assis­tance in the library abound. He sniffs the card cat­a­log, rubs his head on the new book col­lec­tion, and joins sto­ry hour. Nobody quite knows what to do as “there weren’t any rules about lions in the library.”

When he lets out a small but star­tling RAAAHHRRRR! at the end of sto­ry hour, Miss Mer­ri­weath­er informs him of the library rule that cov­ers every­thing from too much talk­ing to roar­ing. “‘If you can­not be qui­et, you will have to leave,” she [says] in a stern voice. “Those are the rules!’”

Well, as we know — and as chil­dren must learn — there are times when it is entire­ly right to break the rules. And when that time comes in this book, the lion knows what to do. This time, his roar is much larg­er. I always have the kids read it with me — we raaahhrr as loud as we pos­si­bly can. As we work up to a prop­er vol­ume (they always have to be encour­aged), we take turns run­ning our fin­gers over the illus­trat­ed let­ters that blow the spec­ta­cles off Mr. McBee’s face.


Library Lion illustration

© 2006 Kevin Hawkes

I was so smit­ten with Library Lion when I first dis­cov­ered it that I was lit­tle ner­vous about read­ing it to a group of young chil­dren. What if they didn’t like it? What if it was too old-fash­ioned, implau­si­ble, too sweet? What if chil­dren today were some­how too jad­ed to prop­er­ly appre­ci­ate this gem of a book?!

I need not have wor­ried. This is one of those pic­ture books that sucks kids in right away. They become one of the chil­dren in Miss Merriweather’s library on page one. When the book fin­ish­es, they look around the bookstore/library/room as if they expect to see a lion pad in.

Michele Knud­sen and Kevin Hawkes are an inspired pair — this is a beau­ti­ful book and I love shar­ing it with kids. It’s a love­ly thing to go hoarse while roar­ing with chil­dren.


6 Responses to Library Lion

  1. Beth Braun April 2, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    Oh, how I love this book, too! I com­plete­ly agree that the pic­tures just draw you in. The roar page is the best! You can feel the warm air rush and every­thing vibrate through the page from that roar! Along the same line, I love _A Library Book for Bear_ by Bon­ny Beck­er. Cer­tain­ly there must be a book about pick­les some­where. And of course that librar­i­an draws bear in, I feel like that is what I do on a dai­ly basis…but with mid­dle school­ers.

  2. Melanie April 2, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    I KNOW you do that dai­ly – and with an impor­tant group. Kudos to ALL the librar­i­ans out there!

  3. Eileen Beha April 2, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    I’m in the process of col­lect­ing won­der­ful books for hos­pi­tal­ized and chron­i­cal­ly ill chil­dren at Hen­nepin Coun­ty Med­ical Cen­ter. I will add this title, and A Library Book for Bear, to my list. Great rec­om­men­da­tions!

  4. Felicia Balllard April 5, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    Eileen, how won­der­ful that you are col­lect­ing for the sweet chil­dren at the hos­pi­tal; just so you know, the “Bear” books by Bon­ny Beck­er con­tain a few oth­er titles, A Vis­i­tor for Bear, A Bed­time for Bear, The Snif­fles for Bear, which are also engross­ing; with love­ly detail, and fun­ny, too.

    As for Library Lion, your remind me, Melanie, to put it back in my sto­ry time rota­tion; my kids love to do the roar­ing, too! (I am a pub­lic librar­i­an.) When the lion gets eject­ed from the library, his sad­ness is pal­pa­ble. Chil­dren under­stand all the intri­ca­cies of the sto­ry; the author and illus­tra­tor trust them to do that, and the kids respond. Oh, how I love this book!

  5. Melanie April 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    Yes, I high­ly rec­om­mend all those Bear Books, Eileen! Each one is a treat. And yes, Feli­cia – Library Lion is def­i­nite­ly a keep­er for sto­ry time! Love it, indeed!

    • Eileen Beha April 6, 2015 at 10:45 am #

      I have added the Bear books to my list. Thanks for the thought­ful sug­ges­tions. I appre­ci­ate your input!

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