The Lion and the Mouse

Jerry Pinkney has been illustrating children’s books since 1964.  1964! That’s 47 whole years of creating art for children.  And he’s gotten much deserved recognition as well…5 Caldecott Honor Medals, a Caldecott medal, 5 Coretta Scott King Awards, 4 Coretta Scott King Honor awards, and the esteem of many, many professional organizations for illustrators.  As well as the rest of us. I don’t know a soul who isn’t crazy about him.

I love language.  The art is always about the idea and the words.

~Jerry Pinckney, 2011 LA SCBWI Conference

This is no photojournalistic feat, just proof we were in the same room!

{He was a keynote speaker at this summer’s SCBWI conference in LA, and gave one of the first keynotes of the weekend. I was overwhelmed and hyperexcited about the weekend, but managed to soak in some gems of his wisdom. As a child, he stared at the window displays of department stores, treating them like still lifes and studies for his art.}

The Lion and The Mouse is a wordless retelling of the Aesop’s classic fable. The enormous Lion, the king of the jungle, spares the teeny squeaky mouse’s life rather than making him dinner. Later, just as a poacher’s net captures the beast, the mouse comes to his last minute aid. Kindness not forgotten, kindness repayed. Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations show such expression and emotion from these two characters. Even without words, these two characters and the lush African landscape vividly come to life.


The obvious physical differences between the lion and the mouse initially interested me to consider the principle of scale.  (side note: I still think about my elementary school princiPAL when I have to write out either principle/principal. good teaching, mr. norris.) Generally, designers will play with scale within a composition in order to assign focus and context for all the elements at work.

The mouse above, sitting pretty on a rule of thirds crash point, is small in the frame, but appears larger.  There is no reference for how big or how small he is.  Our focus is on him and his world, and that’s all that matters.

When the lion and the mouse share the same page, their scale tells a much different story. The tiny mouse is dwarfed by the giant lion. His air of independence and larger-than-life-ness is not as impressive anymore.

I love the moment captured in this picture.  Am I nervous for the bitty mouse who is surely about to get squashed?  Or am I witnessing tenderness between two unlikely friends? Where this is in the sequence of the story reveals the answer. I’m not telling.

Scale is relative. If all elements are approximately the same size in a composition, the image will feel flat and undefined. Differing their size creates tension and movement, and will help the viewer in navigating the design. And it’s usually just more interesting. Unless it’s the dots in Press Here, where the principle of repetition calls for the graphics to NOT be relatively scaled. Cool right? Or confusing? I hope for cool.

{Visit Jerry Pinkney’s studio here. And put some of the 2012 exhibitions on your calendar if you can get there. I’m looking at you, Michigan and Georgia. Don’t say I never got you anything. It would be a huge treat.}

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