There’s a rare darkness in Lucy Ruth Cummins’ A Hungry Lion. Where most children’s picture books trip all over themselves to assure the reader that all is joy and light, A Hungry Lion goes out of its way to portray foreboding, which it then leverages for laughs.
To begin with, we are introduced –with a “Once upon a time…”– to the titular lion and a gathering of other, smaller animals (including “a pig” and “a slightly bigger pig”); on the next spread, after the narrator notices something has changed, we get another “Once upon a time,” and a shorter list of accompanying animals. This continues for a few more spreads, the list of smaller animals getting shorter and shorter.
Cummins tosses in a handful of twists that would blow M. Night Shyamalan’s mind, some misdirection, a deus ex machina moment, and a lot of menace, all centered around a legitimate anti-hero… Or is he just misunderstood?
A Hungry Lion is an example of how subtle, complex and layered the writing in even a short picture book can be. The jokes don’t need to be sledgehammers, announcing themselves; they can slow burn. After the first spread, when one of the pigs disappears, the remaining pig is now described as “a regular size pig.” (Editor – This cracked me up.)
Everything about this book is brilliant. It raises the bar for children’s literature, and almost makes one wonder what most other kids’ authors have been doing with their time.
Kinderlit.ca received a copy of A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals in exchange for an honest review. Read about our Review Policy HERE.