This week for Picture Perfect Fridays I chose Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dark and funny A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS. Writer-illustrator Cummins is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she shows us how to play and break rules in the best possible way. Read on to see what I mean.
(For a super long list of links to picture book reviews, see Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)
Title: A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS
Written and illustrated by: Lucy Ruth Cummins
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016, Fiction
Fun for Ages: 4 and UP
Themes/Topics: Animals, Predators, Surprise
First line: “Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.”
Brief Synopsis (“Summary” from title page): “Members of a large group of animals, including a penguin, two rabbits, and a koala, disappear at an alarming rate but the hungry lion remains.”
Why I Love This Book: Cute animals! Surprises! Reversals of fortune! You’re reading along and you think you have a handle on what’s going to happen. After all, the title tells you the lion is hungry and the animals are dwindling. But wait! You’re in for some surprises. And just when you say, “aha, now I’ve totally got it,” you find that you really don’t.
And back to what I said about Ms. Cummins being a “writer’s writer.” Look at that first line: so, so long! Isn’t that against the picture book writer’s rules? Well, yes, but it works beautifully to set the scene and the tone.
And what about her use of words and phrases like “um,” “well,” “I guess,” and “it seems”? Aren’t those no-nos? Yes, but they help deliver a clear and distinctive and funny voice for our narrator. I sense that Ms. Cummins had fun writing this story. She played, she broke rules, and she let the story be both adorable and oh, so, dark. Perfection!
Ideas for Teachers: On a first read, teachers can use this book to talk about predictions. For each spread, we can ask, “What do you think will happen next?” Students will enjoy being able to predict what’s next at the start of the story. And, even more, later in the story they’ll enjoy the surprise of thinking they know what’s coming and discovering that they never could’ve predicted the outcome. Teachers could also use this book to introduce a unit on predators.