When participants enter a competition it is usually with the express purpose of claiming a victory. Undoubtedly hours, days, maybe even years, have been dedicated to practicing to perfect their skill. The intriguing thing is not all the individuals will bring with them the same definition of that victory.
Coming in first place or with the highest score may not be desired by everyone. For some just being there is the true measure of success. Mama Lion Wins The Race (Scholastic Press, July 25, 2017) written and illustrated by Jon J Muth presents readers with more than one view on winning and what determines those outlooks.
Mama Lion and Tigey looked out their window into a beautiful morning.
As the duo sip their first beverage of the day, contemplating the upcoming race, Tigey proclaims there are one or two things left before they are ready. Full of excitement Mama Lion runs to get the car. With equal enthusiasm Tigey plans their route.
As Tigey tinkers with their car, chatting about the race, Mama Lion notices some flaws in Tigey's cup. Tigey wants to go for the win.
"Well," said Mama Lion. "Winning is fun, but it isn't everything."
A huge crowd has gathered in the square for the start of the race. The Flying Pandinis, two pandas and a turtle, The Knitted Monkeys, three beloved toys named Happy-Go-Lucky, Hans and Bumper and Bun Bun, a rabbit, are there with their vehicles. As all the contestants prepare for the start Mama Lion makes note of the three prizes on the table.
With a roar of engines the race begins! Before long Mama Lion and Tigey are in the lead. As they get farther ahead Mama Lion thinks about the glory of the day, the friendliness of spectators along the route and the speed of the Flying Pandinis. How did they get so close?
In a blink of an eye, a beauty from Mother Nature lands on the road in front of Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey swerves missing it but a wheel come off their car. Seeing their friends in trouble The Flying Pandinis halt and help. Bun Bun buzzes by scattering seeds along the road and The Knitted Monkeys are not far behind her. With their car in fine working order again, Mama Lion and Tigey and the Flying Pandinis are in the race again.
Trickery and a quirk of automotive malfunctioning add twists to the event as the finish line grows closer. More trickery causes an amazing switch. Mama Lion and Tigey have a choice to make. On this day everyone wins.
As this story penned by Jon J Muth progresses one of the things readers realize is they are utterly charmed by the characters. Through their conversations, thoughts and the narrative, which is downright thrilling at points, we come to understand the innate goodness in their personalities, even those rascal monkeys. They all have gifts which shine and are interwoven in this story. Here is a sample passage.
"Pop the trunk and grab our tools!" said Tigey. "We must get on the road again!"
The roar of an engine drew close behind them. Gravel crunched and brakes screeched as the Flying Pandinis ground to a stop.
"Hurry, we must help them!" said Baby Panda.
"Yes! Look sharp!" said his sister Bao Bao. "They are using a number 8 spanner when they need a number 12!"
You can't help but be curious or start to grin as you look at the matching dust jacket and book case for this title. It's not every day you see what look to be two stuffed animals speeding down a road in a race car. Clearly Mama Lion and Tigey are happy to be in their vehicle in this race. The color choices, the predominant red, orange, blue and green, mirror the joy seen in the hands raised in greeting and the smiles on the characters' faces.
To the left, on the back, another perspective of the duo driving away from us is shown with the phrase
There is more than one way to win a race!
A bright grass green covers the opening and closing endpapers. Mama Lion, a smile curving on her face, stands tall to the left of the text on the title page.
Rendered with Caran d'Ache pencils, Italian writing ink, watercolors, and gouache on Moulin Du Roy watercolor paper the illustrations span single, single pages crossing the gutter or double pages in their glorious, delicate, exquisite wonder. The two-page pictures are stunning in their perspectives. On many of the pages the use of white space accentuates the bold black text.
Careful readers will notice the Easter eggs in some of the larger scenes. (I wonder how many there are. How many did I miss?) Another interesting thing Jon J Muth does is combining animal and human characters. To me this makes his books, this story, more inviting and magical.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is when Mama Lion is running to get the car and Tigey is plotting their race route on a globe. Each one of them are holding their cups, steam rising. Mama Lion is full of complete bliss as she leaps forward. Tigey is intently noticing the two red x marks joined by dotted lines. The background is a pale yellow wash. From this picture we know this story takes place in Italy.
This title, Mama Lion Wins The Race, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth is overflowing with exuberant delight. The cast of characters, their values and the gentle reminder of what is most important in a race, in life, surrounds readers like a warm and comforting hug. This book is one you must have on your professional and personal bookshelves. You need to read it aloud and share it with others whenever you can. You will also be pleased to note Jon J Muth thanks those who introduced him to their stuffed friends. He even names specific people and their toys.
To learn more about Jon J Muth and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. You might want to listen to his video interviews at Reading Rockets.
UPDATE: Jon J Muth Talks with Roger at The Horn Book on September 20, 2017.