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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

(c) 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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