Creatures step out of a bestiary in this tie-in to a manuscript exhibit at the Getty Museum.
The cheery if surreal episode features a young castle worker who swipes an unfinished bestiary and dreams of nonviolent knightly encounters with a lion, unicorn, dragon, and other mighty beasts of yore—somehow failing to notice until the end that his supposed foes have swirled out of the pages to feed the chickens, spread straw, light a fire, and finish the rest of his assigned tasks. Lee places richly hued, friendly looking versions of the creatures into bland castle-yard settings and adds a wizard-ish artist who watches and ultimately draws the animals back into their book. Readers may wonder if there’s a leaf missing partway through, where two very different full-page illustrations collide at the gutter. Further confusion will likely follow as the captions to a set of images from actual bestiaries at the end (following an inconspicuous cautionary note) present fancy as factoid: Lions “are afraid of fire and the sight of a white rooster”; a “dog that crosses a hyena’s shadow will lose its voice.” Even a chimeric bonnacon, which “attacks by expelling a fiery dung that can travel as far as two acres, burning anything it touches,” can’t quite redeem this artless outing. Save for the Asian-presenting wizard/artist, the human cast is white.
An exotic menagerie fenced in by design flubs and an anemic plotline. (appendix) (Picture book. 7-9)