Being swallowed by a lion works watershed changes on young Penny’s character.
Plainly cast as a riff on Maurice Sendak’s Pierre (1962) but lacking its progenitor’s internal logic (not to mention its narrative lilt), the episode introduces Penny as a tidy, quiet child who draws “boring…but nice” pictures of flowers, lets other kids steal her lunch, and always does as she’s told. One day a lion appears on the playground and gulps her down. Shortly thereafter she punches her way out and declares that she will not let herself be eaten again—a resolution that somehow translates into sweeping behavioral changes: “So Penny now draws whatever she wants, maybe dragons or a monster named Ryan… // And at lunchtime she goes to the front of the line, riding on the back of a lion.” In the large-format cartoon illustrations Fairgray surrounds his self-possessed, purple-haired white protagonist with wildly caricatured schoolmates and teachers displaying a broad range of clothes, body types, and variations in skin tone. The smiling lion looks more like a boulevardier than a predator, leaning on the playground fence and sporting a carefully coiffured mane and jagged rows of oddly tiny teeth. “So let this be a lesson, children, being good and nice is fine, / but don’t be afraid to break rules or test limits from time to time.” Uh, right.
Stylish the art may be, but it’s wasted on this ham-fisted moral tale. (Picture book. 6-8)