When one of the marble lions guarding the main entrance to the New York Public Library goes AWOL, the other scampers off in pursuit.
Seeing Patience’s plinth unoccupied and dawn at hand, worried Fortitude steps off to track his longtime sidekick down in rigidly metric verse: “Patience told stories of ducklings and moons, / Of wardrobes and buttons and fun. / On cold snowy evenings or hot afternoons, / Fortitude cherished each one.” The quest takes readers on a quick tour of the iconic building from the Astor Hall entrance to the lofty Rose Reading Room and then back to ground level, where the errant kitty is found at last in the Children’s Center surrounded by open books. The lions make it back to their assigned places in time, but Fortitude is hooked: “ ‘Patience,’ he said, ‘when there’s no one around, / Tonight can we sneak in and read?’ ” The lions sport jutting jaws, à la Tony the Tiger, and anthropomorphic expressions, but Lewis endows the two with properly leonine manes. Along with depicting the library’s decorations and architectural details with reasonable fidelity (though nowhere is there even a glimpse of a computer), she includes recognizable images from several classic picture books. According to an unobtrusive note, the Children’s Center is scheduled to move to another building in 2020, so notwithstanding the multiple literary references, this won’t have a long shelf life as a guide for young visitors. Still, the iconic lions have greeted all comers since 1911 (though they weren’t given their current names until the 1930s) and will continue to do so for many years to come.
An inviting entree, if (not unlike the institution itself) a bit staid. (endnotes) (Picture book. 5-7)