November 09, 2006


The Happy Lion Roars. By Louise Fatio. Pictures by Roger Duvoisin. Knopf. $15.95.

Pirates, Ships, and Sailors. By Kathryn and Byron Jackson. Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. Golden Books. $14.95.

     They don’t make ‘em the way they used to, and in many ways that is a good thing: today’s technologies, communications capabilities, and even movies and TV and written stories are in many ways superior to and more interesting than those of 50 or so years ago.  Yet there are charms to certain productions of the mid-20th century that are missing in more-modern works, and that is why it is good to have new editions of some old-time books available for a new generation of young people.

     The Happy Lion Roars is the second of 10 Happy Lion books by the wife-and-husband team of Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin.  The first book, The Happy Lion, originally released in 1954 and reissued in 2004, chronicled the adventures in the city of the pleasant, well-fed title character.  The Happy Lion Roars, which dates to 1957, starts with the happy lion being unhappy – because he is lonely.  Duvoisin’s delightful illustrations give the lion facial expressions and body language that show his loneliness quite clearly, while Fatio’s descriptions of the companionship enjoyed by other animals – and the humans who come to the zoo to visit them – make the lion’s predicament clear.  Then the Happy Lion spots a Beautiful Lioness, who is visiting the animal park as part of a circus – and the two lions hatch an escape plot that leads to the Beautiful Lioness moving into the Happy Lion’s cave house, where the Happy Lion’s body conceals her from everyone searching for her.  But then a little girl spots the lioness, the circus people move in to recapture her, and “the Happy Lion roared the biggest, loudest, longest roar he had ever roared in his life.”  This sets the stage for a happy ending, an end to loneliness, and a book that retains every bit of its charm 50 years after it first appeared.

     Pirates, Ships, and Sailors is not a full-length book but a collection of 24 stories and poems – a mixed bag, and a very pleasant one.  Dating all the way back to 1950, this large-size book – 10½ by 12 inches – offers denser storytelling than you will usually find in a modern book of 70 pages.  Some stories are heartwarming: “The Wonderful Bottle” is about a little girl’s discovery of a ship in a bottle, and how she gets one of her own.  Some are adventurous: “The Big Little Cook’s Boy” is the story of how a young boy foils a band of pirates.  Some are based on legend: “The Flying Dutchman” is the tale of one seaman’s encounter with that damned soul, and is accompanied by one of the best Gustaf Tenggren illustrations in the book.  Kathryn and Byron Jackson tell all the stories straightforwardly and with evident relish, and they sprinkle poems in between the tales, from the moving “Lighthouse” (now rendered obsolete by advancing technology, but still the stuff of little boys’ dreams) to the silly “Twenty-Five Sailors Went Down to the Sea.”  More than half a century after its first publication, this remains a book to cherish.

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