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Learning How to Break Rules

Publication Date: 2006-09-06

Here's a review of a book that should be read aloud at every faculty meeting in the land. And at school board meetings. And in Congress.

Library Lion
by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Candlewick Press, 2006

Okay, I ordered this book, sight unseen, on a gamble. By now my aging brain doesn't even remember what sparked my interest. An inveterate book buyer who lives some distance from a bookstore, I order a lot from the Internet on impulse and I admit I'm often disappointed. I vaguely remember that part of my interest here was those New York City Library iconic lions standing guard outside the library. It's a long story, but those lions are an important part of my journey to independence. May they stand there forever.

Okay, something unremembered propelled me to order this book, unseen, on the Internet. And when it arrived, I tore open the box and read two pages, but I was on my way to my farm co-op to pick cherry tomatoes and collect my share of the zucchini. First things first. I can't say I was particularly excited to read the rest.

But I did notice the wonderful heavy paper on which this book is printed. It creates a wonderful tactile joy.

THEN, tomatoes picked, wasn't it my social/cultural/political responsibility to watch Katie Couric interview Thomas Friedman on her premier show? Ohmygod, what sacrifices I make in the name of being 'in the know.'

Finally, munching on the most delicious cherry tomatoes in the world, I sit down to read Library Lion. Vanish ironic persona; vanish sarcasm, cynicism, and all vestiges of snippy snot. This book transforms me immediately to my third grade classroom. What a book! What a story! What a message! This is the kind of book I would have insisted that my principal read. And he, a fellow disinegrating before my eyes from the years-long district bureaucratic ineptitude, but still a mentor and still a hero, would have read it. And he would have appreciated it as much as I.

Below you'll find the starred review from the School Library Journal. But I want to add that in addition to the message this book is elegantly presented on wonderful, heavy stock. Okay, it costs $15.99, but I insist that 'not going cheap' on the production travels hand in hand with the message. Children deserve elegant books, just as they deserve books that will inspire them to revolution.

This book is about breaking rules. It should be read at every faculty meeting in the land. Dreamer that I am, I'd like to see it read into the Congressional Record.

from School Library Journal
Miss Merriweather, head librarian and decorum-keeper, first meets Lion when he saunters past his stone counterparts and into the stacks. Scowling circulation assistant Mr. McBee seems intent on having the enormous cat ejected, but his boss declares that as long as he breaks no rules, he is welcome. The beast does misbehave though, roaring loud displeasure when storytime ends. At Miss Merriweather's reprimand, the contrite-looking lion promises to reform. In fact, he becomes something of a fixture in the building, dusting with his tail, licking envelopes, and serving as a stepstool for small patrons. Everyone appreciates him?except Mr. McBee. When Lion lets out another tremendous RAAAHHHRRR!, the man bursts into Miss Merriweather's office to snitch?and there he finds her in distress, having fallen from a stool and broken her arm. Lion, ? la Lassie, has saved the day, but he is so chagrined by his own rule-breaking behavior that he doesn't return to the library. People miss him. Even Mr. McBee. A feel-good ending and a reminder that Sometimes, there is a good reason to break the rules bring the story to its most-satisfactory conclusion. Hawkes's deft acrylic-and-pencil pictures have appeal for generations of library lovers. They are rich with expression, movement, and detail. The lordly, lovable lion is a masterful mix?regal beast and furry friend?and the many human characters are drawn with animation and emotion.

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