Pride goeth before the fall. Or, in this case, the leap.
An Inuit folk tale is given a tiny update in this picture-book adaptation. Spring has arrived, and a young lemming’s thoughts turn to the tasty moss outside her burrow. Alas, no sooner has she started munching than an equally hungry snowy owl blocks her home’s entrance. The lemming must outwit the bird, but early efforts get nowhere. For example, asking the owl to simply spread its legs and redirect its gaze falls flat. (“No way! I am not stupid!” says the owl.) Next the lemming tries entreating the owl to wait for plumper prey. No go. Finally, she hits on the best solution, challenging the owl to a leaping contest. There’s a fine tradition of stories involving prey outwitting their predators. In this case, the lemming is remarkable for failing so miserably to trick her hunter before finally hitting on the best solution, and the owl is equally remarkable for its patience. While the dialogue is smart and snappy (this version of the story began life as a film), the interstitial narrative is less lively. Mixed-media art portrays both the lemming and the owl (to a lesser degree) as cartoonish figures. Fortunately background photographs of the Arctic tundra vistas more than make up for what these figures lack.
This Arctic spin on a familiar folkloric theme, while uneven, offers a glimpse of a landscape too little seen in children’s books. (Picture book/folklore. 4-7)