Jul/Aug 2012 Reviews & Interviews

Within Few Pages Great Stories are Found

Review by Colleen Mondor

Buy now from Amazon! The Brooklyn publisher Enchanted Lion excels at creative and unique picture book offerings and a recent set of titles I reviewed is not different. With spare text (or even wordless), these three books pack the sort of philosophical punch that is rare for young readers and will prompt the sort of thoughtful discussion that read-alouds are made for. I hesitate to call them hip because that all too often is code for trendy and puts off those seeking timeless reads (the goal of most parents) and yet I can't shake the impression that Enchanted Lion is consistently looking for books that are hip in the most traditional sense of the word. This a publisher who wants to shake readers out of their ruts, especially parents who might be mechanically reaching for the same twenty library recommendations that were read to them when they were young. (Not that there's anything wrong with a classic—perish the thought!—but modern is never a bad thing either.) All I know is that a package from Enchanted Lion means I will find something utterly original inside and that alone is reason for great excitement.

The Giant Seed by author and illustrator Arthur Geisert is a companion to Ice, a previous title celebrating the same small porcine community. This wordless title, drawn with the most meticulous and minute care, follows the happy pig residents of an unnamed island who are suddenly under threat of an erupting volcano. Fortunately a large seed has arrived and been carefully planted by the industrious pigs who now pack their bags (literally) and fashion "balloons" from the dandelion-like plant. They move on to greener pastures and are saved a Pompeii-like demise. Without emphasizing the destruction, Geisert celebrates instead the industrious of the community and its collaborative spirit which results in everyone moving in a judicious manner to save not only themselves but their possessions. It's all very much a counterbalance to Titanic panic and certainly will make readers discuss not only the intricate illustrations but the overall message of teamwork. (Plus, pigs!!!!!)

In Fish On a Walk, Eva Muggenthaler adds two words to each of her richly colored pages setting up a dichotomy of responses as readers puzzle out just which word applies the best. From "happy" ducks in a rainstorm to "sad" dogs in the same predicament, to "rude" kangaroos fighting on dueling firescapes while their "friendly" joeys exchange flowers between the rails, Muggenthaler keeps her title from being stuck in the message morass with her humorous fantasy, plant and animal stars in their familiar and yet outrageous situations. (Fish on a walk! Boars going to the beach! Gnomes building a fence!) While on the one hand the pictures are utterly familiar (a flock of chickens bedding down for the night in their coop), on the other they are outright bizarre (bats and ghosts get ready at the same time to take to the darkened skies). The brief captions spark discussion but the illustrations will spur head shaking and laughter, all of which makes Fish On A Walk the sort of book that adults will enjoy as much as young children which is pretty much the gold standard for any picture book.

Germano Zullo and illustrator Albertine have created a title that truly crosses over from entertainment to thought provoking with their boldly colorful tale, Little Bird. On the surface it is the tale of a truck driver and his cargo, a flock of colorful birds who are set free at a cliff face at the end of a long winding road. The driver seems relieved to see his cargo on its way until he notices one small bird that remained behind. The text prompts readers to realize that all days are the same until one small thing can change everything. The small thing is clearly the last bird, whose refusal to fly (fearful to leave its confines perhaps?) forces the driver to spend more time on his trip and even, hysterically, try to teach the little bird how to fly. Ultimately he joins his flock and that would seem to be the end, except Zullo is not done yet and throws a curveball at the driver sparking no small amount of awe and delight.

While Albertine's deep primary colors command immediate attention (her rendering of the birds is especially delicious), it is Zullo's text that made me wonder if Little Bird might belong more appropriately in middle school libraries where the days can be very dark, or on graduation tables as young adults face the daunting prospects of adulthood. This is a book about wonder, of all things, and hardly anyone writes about that anymore let alone combines it with such fine artwork. Will the preschool set enjoy it? Certainly—no worries there. But I think it is suitable for so many others who might need an unexpected jolt of encouragement or a reminder of just how spontaneous life can be. In the end, Little Bird, just like every other Enchanted Lion title, prompted me to both grin and sigh with contentment. We don't get enough sheer joy in our lives, folks—yet this publisher delivers it by the bucketful and we would all do well to peruse their backlist.

Lest you think Enchanted Lion has the corner are unique picture books, Egyptian born author Karim Alrawi gives a gentle spin on the ideal of the weak helping the strong in the delightful (and timely) The Mouse Who Saved Egypt from Interlink. The story opens with a young prince helping a mouse who is trapped in the thorns of a bush. The mouse promises never to forget his kindness and the two part, with the prince becoming a pharaoh, receiving a vision from the sun god Ra and leading his people with benevolence and wisdom. One day however they come under attack and all appears lost until the small mouse and his thousands of friend intervene in a timely (and appropriate) manner and save the day. The pharaoh realizes (and teaches his people) that every small act of kindness is rewarded which is, of course, the ultimate happily ever after.

Every one of Alrawi's words are carefully chosen to not only give readers a sweet message but also to share just a wee bit about Egypt's colorful history. You learn about their religion, their art (a great Sphinx is portrayed) and also how the people lived. The story is very well done—Alrawi conveys a lot in a few words—but it is the illustrations by Bee Willey that truly mesmerize here. The colorful pictures, which fill ever page from corner to corner, appear almost three dimensional. Willey conveys a significant amount of depth in her artwork making the mouse appear lifelike, and the people temptingly touchable. (It's almost surreal how realistic these pictures are.) The combination of rich artwork and short, strong story make The Mouse Who Saved Egypt a great read for groups in particular. Plus it's Egypt!!! Start curious readers out early with this one and then keep them going with Cleopatra, the pyramids, hieroglyphs and everything else that is endlessly cool about this country. Nicely done.

Little Bird
By Germano Zullo
Illustrated by Albertine
Enchanted Lion 2012
ISBN 1592701186

The Giant Seed
By Arthur Geisert
Enchanted Lion 2012

A Fish On A Walk
By Eva Muggenthaler
Enchanted Lion 2011

The Mouse Who Saved Egypt
By Karim Alrawi
Illustrated by Bee Willey
Interlink 2011
ISBN 1-56656-856-2


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