The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney



Pinkney, Jerry. The Lion and the Mouse. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. ISBN 9780316013567

Plot Summary

The mouse narrowly escapes the talons of an owl only to find himself taking refuge in the fur of a lion. The lion shows kindness to the mouse and lets him go. Later on, when the lion ends up in a hunter’s rope trap, the mouse hears the lion’s roars and bring his family to help rescue the lion. The mice nibble through the ropes and set the lion free.

Critical Analysis

Jerry Pinkney takes one of the most recognized of Aesop’s fables and presents it here in a beautifully illustrated, wordless story that takes place in the African plains. The two title characters are featured, one on each cover, in the same size to demonstrate their equality. The mouse represents the small, feeble parts of all of us and our status as prey as he runs away from the screeching owl. When the mouse ends up on the back of the king of the jungle, the lion portrays the mercy and grace of a good ruler when he decides to let the mouse go.

The only letters Pinkney uses throughout the book are the sounds made by the owl, the lion, the mice, and the truck of the hunters. These written representations of the sounds help the reader to better immerse herself in the story. Pinkney creates light and shadow with his mottled illustrations which bring the wildlife and the plants of Africa to life. The full, multi-colored mane of the lion and the detailed features of the mouse serve to highlight the main characters well. The reader never sees the faces of the hunters who come to capture the lion, which is fitting because those who seek to harm us are often faceless, nameless people, looking out only for themselves. Also, people with these motives do not warrant as much recognition as giving them faces would garner. The panic on the lion’s face when he is caught in the trap evokes the same sense of dread in the reader. When the mice finally free the lion from his trap, he looks down on the mouse with admiration and gratitude.

The endpapers of the book show the mouse and his family riding on the back of the lion who is accompanied by his family. In this poignant illustration, the reader sees that the lion cares deeply for his family and that he now counts the mouse and his family as some of his own. Pinkney needs no words to capture the true roots of this fable. He maintains the moral lessons of how the great and powerful need the seemingly insignificant and of the notion that no act of kindness is too small.

The first time I read through this book, it took me probably less than two minutes since there are no words. I already knew the story, so I just needed to refresh my memory. However, as I went back and re-read it several times, I found myself slowing down further each time and poring over the pages. Each time I open the book again, I find some new detail in the illustrations that makes the experience that much richer. After spending a short time with this book, it is easy to see why it is a Caldecott award winner.

Review Excerpts

Caldecott Medal

( WON AWARD in 2010 )

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books

( WON AWARD in 2009 )

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards


Volunteer State Book Award


Indies’ Choice Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2010 )

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

( WON AWARD in 2009 )

“… the value of even the smallest creature is recognized in this stunning Caldecott winner rendered in expressive watercolors. A visual feast.” —School Library Journal, April 2011

“*Starred Review* The intricate lion’s face that crowds the cover of Pinkney’s latest folktale adaptation is unaccompanied by any title or credits, and that is entirely appropriate there are no words inside, either…And involved they will be how could they not get drawn into watercolors of such detail and splendor? Pinkney’s soft, multihued strokes make everything in the jungle seem alive, right down to the rocks, as he bleeds color to indicate movement, for instance, when the lion falls free from the net. His luxuriant use of close-ups humanizes his animal characters without idealizing them, and that’s no mean feat.” — Booklist, July 2009

“Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship with another universal theme-family-affectingly illustrated in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back.” — Publisher’s Weekly, July 2009


Read other retellings of Aesop’s fables:

  • The Ant and the Grasshopper by Rebecca Emberley, Ill. by Ed Emberley ISBN 9781596434936
  • Town Mouse, Country Mouse by Jan Brett ISBN 9780698119864
  • The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam, Ill. by Culpeo S. Fox ISBN 9788181903037

Read other books by Jerry Pinkney

  • Noah’s Ark ISBN 9781587172014
  • The Little Red Hen ISBN 9780803729353
  • Puss in Boots ISBN 9780803716421
  • The Tortoise and the Hare ISBN 9780316183567

Have students write a manuscript for the book since it is wordless.

Have students create their own version of the story using different characters, but demonstrating the same moral.

Have students share, either orally or in writing, about times when they experienced where little friends or little acts of kindness have turned out to be big things.

Identify each of the different animals in the background illustrations and have the students search for information about those animals.

Image from, accessed February 13, 2015. Cover art by Jerry Pinkney.


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