How to Hide a Lion (Henry Holt, 2013. Originally published 2012 in the UK.)
by Helen Stephens
One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.
Of course he did. That frilly blue thing in the window is pretty fancy after all. This beast only has eyes for that bonnet, and bypassed the bakery without even a side eye. But while the beast has eyes for the bonnet, the townspeople have eyes for safety and decorum. They chase him out.
And like any smart wild animal, he finds refuge in a kid. A kid who was not scared of him in the least. A kid who saw a problem that needed solving. A kid who saw her world differently. She knows he needs hiding, and I think that’s such a beautiful example of what it must be like to be a kid. You have this vague awareness of things that are problems for grownups, and yet you attack them as if those grownups are absurd.
That’s kid truth. That’s a great thing for this lion.
There’s smushing behind the shower curtain, there’s lounging on the limb of a tree, and there’s plenty of bed-jumping. And still, when he overhears Iris’s parents saying there’s no such thing as a kind lion, there’s sadness.
The way Helen Stephens is using color in this book is both sweet and striking to me. This lion, large and yellow, takes up a lot of space on pages of close ups. And his girl, Iris, matches him a bit with her yellow arms and brown mane. That’s sweet. That’s friends who can see themselves in each other.
But the blues. Loose complements to the wild yellow of the beast, the wild brown of Iris’s hair. Ever notice when a book is cracked open, the edges of the cover frame it a bit? This one is blue, a lovely turquoise. The endpapers are a shade of sky and a deep navy. Those pages and that cover peek around the story itself.
A little touch of blue, giving this lion a hug.
Just like Iris.
These vignettes! The gag is a an unhide-able lion, right? It’s an impossibility that’s highlighted with the use of these orange-yellows and blues.
After the lion escapes his Iris-refuge, he blends in to his surroundings. A camouflaged cat, if you will. He holds his breath between two marble-sculpted friends. I don’t want to show you the spread, cause Big Things Happen, but take a look at the colors of that page. His hiding is a success. No need for blues to offset his presence.
Also, I love how this book is pretty big. That’s obviously not a very technical or artistic term to to reference trim size, but it’s true. A lion is tricky to hide, and the physical space this book takes up is the gentlest nod to the absurdity of that task. Besides, a lion wouldn’t fit in a smaller book, right?
He’d be much harder to hide that way.
PS: Be sure to visit this post from Danielle at This Picture Book Life. There’s some secret-spoiler-y-easter-egg things on the pages of this book, and her post is the coolest.