Book Review: Library Lion

Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Scholastic 2006.

In this story that recounts what happens when a lion wanders into the local public library, author Michelle Knudsen demonstrates clearly and succinctly the modern bureaucracy in action. The strict adherence to "the rules" by library employees Mr. McBee and Miss Merriweather does not allow for the exercise of the slightest amount of common sense.

This is evident from the outset of the book, when the lion walks through the door of the library. Rather than calling animal control or shouting out a warning to library patrons, McBee breathlessly hightails it to Merriweather to ask her what to do. Her response: "if he's not breaking any rules, leave him be." There is apparently no rule against animals in the library. Of course, it is impossible to write a rule against every conceivable event, but bureaucracy does not allow for independence of action based on common sense. We see the same thing at TSA, when toddlers and wheelchair-bound senior citizens are frequently subjected to degrading treatment that is a complete waste of time.

In the course of the book, the lion manages to avoid devouring a child, and provides valuable services to the library staff while enjoying daily storytime. But then Merriweather falls and breaks her arm. The lion, in a frantic attempt to alert an oblivious McBee to summon medical assistance, lets out a roar. Then, and only then, is the lion finally evicted from the library for not being quiet. In the end, though, Merriweather teaches McBee, and children, an important lesson: "Sometimes there is a good reason to break the rules."

It is a difficult task, indeed, trying to teach a child, at the same time we are trying to instruct them to follow the rules, that sometimes rules are arbitrary and ridiculous and should be ignored. How do we tell them that, yes, you should obey the "don't walk" light at the crosswalk while, at the same time, suggest that they shouldn't pay that red light camera ticket? How do we teach them to respect authority when authority is so often unworthy? This book provides an opening to discuss these issues.

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