Most of us strive to be the best we can be at whatever it is we do. When learning something new, we look for the best possible teacher. We want someone with time-tested experience. We want someone who sees not only the whole picture but the difference the tiniest of details can make. We want someone who understands the essence of what we are going to do.
In other words, we want to get our instruction straight "from the horse's mouth." Jon Agee's newest picture book title, Lion Lessons (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 5, 2016) explores this concept with hilarious and surprising results. Sometimes the challenge is much more than anticipated.
It's not easy getting your Lion Diploma.
I know. I took lessons.
Upon entering a studio and after donning appropriate attire, a boy enters an office to meet his instructor. This instructor, an actual lion, informs him of a seven-step process. Before they can even begin their lessons stretching, in a variety of poses, is essential.
As the king of beasts the first lesson has to do with the appropriate stance. On the "roar-o-meter" it registers the lad's technique needs work...a lot of work. In selecting meal choices the lion's preferred menu and his pupil's favorites are a plate of pasta apart.
The tasks for stealth and speed give new meanings to the word behind for this struggling student. Lesson seven, the final lesson, is of the utmost importance. Back to back, standing tall, the mentor and the novice scan the horizon, searching.
First one and then another are spotted. When questioned by the lion, the boy initially responds as expected but his second reply astounds the lion and the other local inhabitants. Meow power!
Jon Agee addresses his audience using simple, straightforward sentences. Having the boy narrate his own story gives it authenticity. You believe the boy took lion lessons from a walking, talking lion. By including conversational exchanges between the teacher and student, Agee enhances the believability element as well the liberal doses of humor. Here is a sample passage.
Step five was sprinting. ...
..."You mean the little one here?"
"No," said the lion. "The big one on that faraway hill.
I'll meet you there in five minutes."
It took me an hour.
"You need to hit the gym," said the lion.
What greets readers on the front, the right of the opened matching dust jacket and book case, is the boy attempting to replicate the first lesson on appearing fierce. Although he looks the part at this point, remember what you see is not necessarily what you get...at least in the beginning. To the left, on the back, the view is identical but the point of view has changed. We are looking at the back of the duo. The canvas color for the opening and closing endpapers is the same as the text on the case and jacket.
Jon Agee cleverly begins his story with the first page turn after the opening endpapers. The boy is walking down a sidewalk, hands in his short's pockets. All the signs for the businesses are advertising a variety of lessons. The stroll is continued down the street on the verso and title pages with the boy turning to look at us as he walks into the Lion Lessons shop. The title is the sign on the outside.
Agee is a master of using white space to accentuate his pictures especially when he groups smaller illustrations together. In this book his other background hue of choice is usually pale blue with one difference. Black heralds a significant shift in this story. You can't help but smile at the added details in his visuals; the great lions in history poster, the Harvard School of Claw certificate on the lion's wall, or the food choice names like Grass Fed Gnu or Organic Iguana. And I can hardly keep from laughing at the body postures of both characters and the looks on their faces from lesson to lesson.
One of my favorite illustrated pages contains two images. On a white background first the lion is bending slightly over and forward, moving secretively into the woods. The boy is trying to creep along behind him. Beneath this, the second picture shows the lion's face peeking out from a large bush. The boy is nearly hidden except for his tail hanging out along the ground. Clearly he needs more practice at this lesson of sneaking and hiding.
I guarantee you will be romping and roaring after reading Lion Lessons written and illustrated by Jon Agee. It is always a good plan to learn from an expert but our basic instincts can leap into action when necessary. Fans of felines will gather to read this repeatedly...so will all readers who love laughter and a great tail...er tale.
To discover more about Jon Agee and his other books, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. To view an interior image follow this link to the publisher's website. Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson, highlights this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.