Library Lion - Thao Lam
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Library Lion

Library Lion

Library Lion

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Shhhhhhhh… Keep reading…

“Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library.”

Perfect for story time, Library Lion was written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. I thought I read somewhere that Michelle Knudsen once worked for the New York Central Library, so I’m curious if the inspiration for the lion come from the two majestic lions statues that guard the library? What a grand way to be greeted every morning on your way in to work.

I wonder if the artist intentionally turned down the volume of the colours, to keep with the hushed atmosphere of the library. The acrylic-and-pencil illustrations are very soft and subtle. The way the acrylic is applied is diluted and in layers, so it can almost be mistaken for watercolour. My only beef with the art is the stereotyping of the main characters: the librarians have glasses, hair buns, and bow ties, and are Caucasian. The library is part of our community and should reflect the diversity of the community. I have met plenty of librarians during my visits, each as different as the books on the library shelves, full of knowledge and character. I wish that diversity was reflected in the illustrations.

Library Lion, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

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Author Michelle Knudsen

Michelle Knudsen never dreamed about being a children’s book author until she was hired as an editorial assistance for Random House’s children’s division. As part of her job she wrote several books inhouse (publishers are known to ask their editors to come up with book ideas and write them as inhouse projects). Eventually Knudsen began writing and submitting her own manuscripts.

I am always tickled pink when an author or an illustrator, takes time out of their busy schedule to reply to a fan mail.

I didn’t ever work for the New York Public Library, but I was working at the Cornell University Library in Ithaca, NY, at the time that I wrote the story. I have always loved libraries, from my early days as a young library patron to my junior high school library monitor position to library jobs in college and beyond. So it made a lot of sense for me to set a story in one of my very favorite places, but I didn’t have any particular library in mind — and I hadn’t been thinking at all about the NYPL lions! I was working as a library evening supervisor up at Cornell, and sometimes worked until 2:30am, since we kept the library open late for students. It was one of those late nights/early mornings that I came home and was having some tea before bed, and the first line of the story just popped into my head. I still have the original first draft, scribbled on the back of an envelope and some purple notepaper and Post-it notes — whatever I had handy, since I didn’t want to risk losing any of the story by running upstairs to turn on my computer. To this day I’m not sure what prompted the idea of the lion — I know I had been trying to think of possible library stories, and we did occasionally have accidental animal visitors at the library, but usually they were of the bird and dog and mouse variety — no lions, as far as I know.  :)

– Michelle Knudsen –

To find out more about Michelle Knudsen, visit her website

Illustrator Kevin Hawkes

There are a couple of wonderful articles and interviews with Kevin Hawkes online; the passage below really stuck with me because I also find comfort in books and libraries (

“Books have always been important to me. And libraries. Living in a military family, I moved a lot. Every two or three years we were off to a different part of the country or the world. This was exciting, but left me yearning for familiar things. Whenever we moved to a new place, my mother took us to the library. Do you know that every library in the world smells the same? When I went to the library I could find familiar books, like old friends and discover new ones.”

Hawkes’s parents loved books so he grew up hearing stories all the time. It wasn’t a surprise when he grew up wanting to tell stories and illustrated children’s books. After graduating with a degree in illustration, Hawkes worked for two years in the children’s section of a bookstore, where he spent his lunch hours pouring over picture books and studying the illustrations. Eventually he worked up enough courage and had a solid portfolio to show publishers.

I am always tickled pink when an author or an illustrator, takes time out of their busy schedule to reply to a fan mail.

“When I first received the manuscript for Library Lion, the images which came to mind were of a sweet old fashioned library – something like the ones I remember going to as a child.  Growing up in an Air Force family, we moved all the time and libraries were one of the few stable things in my life.  Every library in the world smells the same. I wanted this book to evoke images as sweet and gentle as those memories. Visual comfort food!

I began experimenting with a technique that would give that sort of feeling.  Eventually I eneded up rendering the final drawings in black charcoal, then printing those drawings in sepia tone ink on hot press watercolor paper.  Finally I went over those drawings with acrylic washes to add color and depth.  The finished illustrations were exactly the right tone for the book.  Candlewick Press’s design department went the extra step of printing the type in sepia tone and having the book printed on a cream colored stock which made the illsutrations even more effective.

To this day, I love that first edition of Library Lion as much or more than any book I’ve ever done.”

– Kevin Hawkes –

To find out more about Kevin Hawkes, visit his website

Publisher Candlewick; First Edition edition (July 25, 2006)

ISBN-10 9780763622626

ISBN-13 978-0763622626