- Craig Graziano
Chloe and the Lion is not about a young girl facing off with a ferocious feline, no matter what the title says. Sure, Chloe's present, saving up her nickels and dimes to ride the merry-go-round. She does, in fact, spin around that ride so many times that she gets dizzy and lost in the nearby woods. It is at that very point that Chloe should meet a lion. Instead, a large, ferocious, winged, burgundy dragon steps out.
Writing a picture book is hard work. You must have a solid story, likable characters, and the right choice of words. What's more, this delicate balance can be completely thrown out of whack by a maverick illustrator who thinks that "a dragon would be cooler."
Mac Barnett is the author and Adam Rex is the illustrator of Chloe and the Lion and they are having some...differences of opinion. Their argument, thanks to Rex's artistic ability, turns into a play on the fantastic Looney Toons short Duck Amuck, with Barnett turning into a goofy-looking cowboy and a gorilla. "You're fired, Adam," our simian author quietly states.
Adam is replaced with another artist, whose lion swallows Rex whole. Despite that, the cat just isn't frightening enough for Mac. "Maybe you should make him a dragon," says the new guy. That's when Mac resorts to drawing the book himself. Unfortunately, his art skills are lacking, and Chloe now looks deformed and bug-eyed. "This book is a disaster," Mac laments.
Does Mac ever finish his book? Does Adam spend the rest of his life inside a doofy-looking lion? Will Chloe ever get to ride the merry-go-round again? Oh wait...the book isn't really about Chloe.
In a clever presentation, Mac and Adam are 3-D, photo-realistic figurines representing their story as 2-D images on a tiny stage. The book visually packs a punch while offering an inspired, non-preachy lesson about teamwork and compromise.
Barnett and Rex have been doing very interesting things with picture books for the past decade. Their work often subverts the medium in an inspired, approachable way. Young children may not always follow or understand all of the jokes, but these two make books that many age levels can read and appreciate. Another title that may help ease young ones into the idea of being able to step outside of a story is David Wiesner's The Three Pigs. Just make sure they know the original story first.
If you end up liking this book, there are many others to try. You might enjoy another Barnett-Rex collaboration titled Guess Again. Barnett works with other illustrators and Rex writes his own picture books as well.