lions and tigers and bears, oh my!…a list of five ferocious stories!

It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

It’s time for a story.  A nice, quiet, cozy story.  Our storyteller — a resourceful little boy in jeans and sneakers — tells us that this story takes place in the jungle.  Sit back.  Settle in.  Get comfy, as we imagine up this lush green setting.

But wait!  What is that?!  Amid the trailing vines and playful monkeys?  Languidly drooping from the tree tops…a long, fuzzy, orange-and-black striped tail…that belongs to…a…TIGER!!!!!  Yikes!!!  Run!!!

We madly dash out of the lime-green undergrowth into the cool inky depths of a cave.  Phew!  Safe at last.  Ahhhhh, this is better.  Only…wait a minute.  What is that?!  Gleaming out from the darkest shadows…two green, glowing eyes…two perked-up ears silhouetted  by a shaft of sunlight…is it?!  Yes, it’s a TIGER!!!!  RUN!!!!!!!!!!

As you can guess, this running from out of the frying pan into the fire continues electrifyingly throughout this extremely enjoyable story.  This terrible tiger just cannot be eluded, and our hearts beat fast time and again as we run into him here, there, and everywhere.  Whatever can we do to tame the beast?  Well…I won’t spoil the ending, but boy-oh-boy is it ever surprising!

Absolutely screaming to be read to children who will giggle and bounce and shriek and probably do a bit of running along with our hero.   Tankard’s delightful, bold illustrations, in colors as loud as a tiger’s roar, blast the story up ten more notches.  This is not a heading-off-to-bed story.  No, it’s a live-wire, rev ’em up, bursting with life story that begs to be read again and again and again.  Love it!

Oh, No! words by Candace Fleming and pictures by Eric Rohmann

Back in the jungle we go.  This time, it’s a bamboo forest, tall slender trunks rising up like so many flamingo legs.  Lurking among them is a menacing tiger.  He’s so still, and the stripey shadows of the bamboo hide his stripey self so well, that the jolly green frog clambering there does not even see him until, with a spring the tiger lunges at the frog!  The frog leap-leap-leaps away, not  noticing the deep hole in the earth ahead of him and falls, down, down, down to the bottom.  “Oh, no!” croaks the unfortunate frog.  The tiger smiles his knowing smile, lies in the shade, and waits…

Along comes a small brown Mouse.  She hears Frog’s cries for help and tries to lend a tiny hand.  Unluckily, she slips and falls and joins Frog down at the bottom of the pit. Oh, no!

As the day meanders on, a number of animals all work to rescue the trapped animals — a slow loris, a pudgy sun bear, a clever monkey —  but one by one their plans go awry and they join the helpless crew in the hole.  Things are looking pretty grim when elephant shows up.  And my oh my, don’t things take a surprising turn then!

This is a fabulous book.  Fleming’s tangy words swing along with a lovely, lilting rhythm (similar to Froggy Went a’Courtin, to my ear).   She marvelously builds up eye-widening layers of alarm and consternation, then turns the plot on a dime into a flood of relief and happiness.  And Rohmann’s prints.  Oh, yes!  Incredible page layouts, perspectives,  movement; the elegance of the bamboo contrasting with the energy and efforts and emotions of these appealing animals, the palette of olives and cinnamons and chocolates that usher us into Southeast Asia.  Absolutely fantastic.  It’s one of my favorites among the new books from this year.  Preschool perfection (and up!)

The Lion and the Mouse, a fable by Aesop, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

You know the fable:  A mouse accidentally bumbles into a lion who, rather than eating the little morsel, lets her go, and later is rescued by the mouse when she gnaws the ropes of a hunter’s snare in which he’s become entangled.

Extraordinarily-talented Jerry Pinkney won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his gorgeous, wordless rendering of this old story, and as many versions as you may have seen, you really should not miss feasting your eyes on this one.  From the golden glow of the lion’s face blazing across the cover, teasing our curiosity with his sideways glance, we are hooked into this story and into its two intriguing heroes.

Set in the tawny, spacious plains of the Serengeti, teaming with the glorious wildlife there, Pinkney adorns his illustrations with lovely spreading acacia trees, burnt-orange grasses, creamy moonflowers.  Moving through the story, Pinkney brilliantly captures the animals’ actions and emotions and decisions in his stunning watercolors.  Gaze at each one; take in the textures of mane and rope, the heat of the plains, the enormous strength of the lion, the perky determination of the mouse.  Incredible.

At the end of the story, don’t miss Pinkney’s Artist’s Note with his intriguing  thoughts about the lessons of the story and his approach to it.  This is a tale every child should know, and Jerry Pinkney’s rendition is a fabulous version of it.

Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett, pictures by Adam Rex

On the title page of this book, jumping into the scene from the get-go  in order to make sure we are aware of his Extreme Importance, Mac the author, pops in.  He waves at us.  Introduces himself.  I’m the, ahem, Author.  On succeeding pages, he deigns to introduce the illustrator, Adam, and the main character,  Chloe.

Now, we get to the story.  Chloe is a plucky gal who has a knack for finding the odd coin, which she saves up and spends weekly on tickets to a quaint merry-go-round.  One day, however, Chloe gets lost in the forest and — horrors! — a lion leaps out to gobble her up!

But, hold on here.  What is this?  Instead of drawing a lion, Adam-the-illustrator has drawn a fearsome purple dragon.  Mac, the Important Author, interrupts the story and takes Adam to task for this.  In fact, they get into quite a heated argument over it, and the upshot is:  Mac fires Adam.  He replaces him with a new illustrator who agrees to humbly draw whatever the genius-of-an-author writes into the story.

Well…I am not going to spoil this story by spelling out all the rest of the mayhem and ridiculousness that result from this knocking-of-heads between author and illustrator.  To me, it feels like a little bit of Muppet-esque quirkiness in the sequences.  Barnett’s humor is extremely-cleverly fleshed out, for real, by Adam Rex whose listing of supplies used for the artwork is as follows:  “basswood, balsa wood, oil and acrylic paints, pencil, Sculpey clay, modified doll clothing, toilet paper, photography, and Photoshop.”  Quite the volatile mixture in the hands of these crazies.

The jacket flap says ages 4-8.  I’d guess a four year old might be amused by this story, but the full impact of sarcasm and wit will probably land better on the 8 and up crowd.  Or just check it out for yourself!

Goldilocks and Just One Bear, written and illustrated by Leigh Hodkinson

Once upon a time, there was a bear who got lost, completely and mystifyingly lost, in the city.  Wandering this way and that, the bear fortunately finds his way into a sweet flat at the top of some swanky towers.  Ahhhh.  This is more like it.

The bear, being a bit peckish after his trying day, starts by looking for some food.  The first bit he tries is too soggy, though.  The second is too crunchy.  The third helping is…not just right, but better than nothing.  He eats it all up, and moseys along to find someplace to rest.  First he finds chairs.  This does not go so well.

You can guess the rest.  How this bear finds his way into a bed, and then is discovered – gadzooks! — by the family when they come home to the mess.  The great surprise, though, is that the mama of this family suddenly realizes she’s acquainted with this bear!  And at that point, everything ends happily for all parties.

Nursery tale variations are a great deal of fun, and Leigh Hodgkinson clearly revels in the silliness and boisterousness of this mix-up.  Shockingly bright colors, vigorous facial expressions, snazzy typeface and careening paragraphs bolster the energy of the story in her jiving mixed-media illustrations.  Read this one with kids who already know their Three Bears and watch the merriment dance in their eyes!

Here are Amazon links for all these beastly tales!

It’s a Tiger!
Oh, No!
The Lion & the Mouse
Chloe and the Lion
Goldilocks and Just One Bear