Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, August 14, 2015

Small But Mighty In Mind

In my way of thinking you can never have too many fairy tales on your personal or professional book shelves.  At the very least a perusal of your library statistics should indicate you as a frequent visitor and borrower of titles from the folklore section.  On most days you can see me exhibiting my firm support of this particular train of thought in a pendant I wear.

Interpretations, variations and fractured fun on the classics broaden our views on the intent of the original stories and the cultures from which they and others come.  Eleven versions of Little Red Riding Hood appear on my personal shelves; some are more light-hearted than those which adhere to the conclusion of the earliest tales.  On May 7, 2015 Little Red And The Very Hungry Lion (Scholastic) written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith celebrated a book birthday.  To begin the story we journey to the continent of Africa.

This is Little Red
and today she is going to
be gobbled up by a lion.
This Lion.
Well, that's what he thinks is going to happen anyway...

Aunt Rosie looks in her mirror one fine morning to discover spots all over her body.  A quick phone call to Little Red has her hustling from her daddy's general store to deliver medicine to her ailing auntie.  She merrily makes her way on the long walk over water and dozing crocodiles, through the grasses and under grazing giraffes.

Monkeys, termites, and gazelles go about their business as she strolls past them.  A kindly elephant offers assistance.  Wandering, waving and unaware she settles for a rest under a large shade tree.  It's the voice of The Very Hungry Lion that alerts her to his presence.  

When he asks and she answers, a plan, his plan, is put in place.  In a flash he dashes away, away to Aunt Rosie's place.  He stashes her in a closet, dons her sleepwear and paints dots all over his furry self.  

Little Red is no fool.  She sees Aunt Rosie looking out through the crack in the cupboard door.  And that is definitely a lion in her bed.  It's time someone learned the difference between right and wrong.

In quick succession three things not part of The Very Hungry Lion's plan happen.  Disgusted by this turn of events, he lets out a roar of protest.  It is addressed emphatically by one determined gal.  Before we sigh and read the words


there may have been the consumption of scrumptious treats, the solicitation of a promise, a reminder and the sheer enjoyment of childhood play under the stars.

Along with shifting from a forest to the landscapes found in Africa Alex T. Smith further freshens the story with the substitution of an aunt with an unusual rash for the sickly grandmother and a father for the traditional mother.  Without a word, only a goodbye wave, he sends his daughter off on her errand.  This, to me, is a clue about his confidence in her ability to take care of herself in any situation she might encounter on the way to Aunt Rosie's house.

The way Smith fashions the story it's as if a family friend or relative has gathered a group together to tell this tale.  The narrative is lively, completely in keeping with the character of Little Red.  Verbs are loaded with action linking sentences together in an upbeat rhythm.  The dialogue is dramatic and hilarious.  Here is a sample passage.

...he opened his mouth wide and... 
tutted Little Red.
"What grubby, grotty
teeth you have, Auntie!"

The book case is a vibrant beckoning call to read this story.  On my copy gold foil is etched over the title letters, along the circles at the top, on all the plants, Little Red's ribbons and throughout The Very Hungry Lion's mane.  To the left on the back, Little Red, The Very Hungry Lion, the two elephants as well as Little Red's constant companion, a goat, are showcased with the first page text.  The opening and closing endpapers awash in reds, oranges and yellows with black silhouettes begin and end the story.  In fact the verso and title page are on the opening endpapers with Little Red and her goat out and about as the sun rises.  

The selection of colors, no matter the place, exudes warmth with every page turn.  Smith's layout, design and use of white space are superior.  The facial looks on Little Red but especially on The Very Hungry Lion are guaranteed to generate laughter.

Careful readers will appreciate Smith's attention to detail; Spot Medicine advertised on the wall of Daddy's general store, crocodiles drinking morning coffee as they lounge in the water, red glasses on one of the giraffes, and hippos wearing snorkels and masks as they mud swim. They might even spy a lurking, bowtie-wearing lion in the background.  Image size is altered to supply pauses and intensify a portion of the narrative.  The one vertical, double-page illustration is a show-stopper.  

One of my favorite pictures is the first two-page spread when Little Red is walking to Aunt Rosie's house.  The background is a glowing golden hue.  Tiny details are finely drawn.  Over them are the more colorful trees, plants water and animals.  Dotted lines represent Little Red's route.  You can almost hear the sounds; perhaps Little Red is singing.  She looks so happy.  So does her goat.

Readers are going to request this title, Little Red And The Hungry Lion written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith, over and over again for bedtime or story time.  It's uproariously good fun with one of the best endings I've ever seen.  You'll want to make sure to add it to your bookshelves.  I'm glad I did.

To learn more about Alex T. Smith and his other work please visit his Tumblr by following the link attached to his name.  If you select Archive you can see interior images from this book in the May 2015 section.  There is a short musical book trailer there.

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