When picture books have the ability to make your heart beat a little faster, fill your eyes with tears and send your spirits soaring. When they effortlessly harness thoughts and project feelings with poignant clarity; to say they are exceptional seems woefully insufficient. Rare are the picture books that can fit this bill, yet Margaret Wild has little trouble doing so.
The Stone Lion is her newest picture book with Ritva Voutila (mums with school aged kids may recognise her unique art from the dozens of Storylands Early Readers). The austere cover and title leave little doubt as to the subject matter but the subtle beauty of the regal, maned lion crouching upon his engraved stone pedestal (you can really feel it), spur the need to know more about him.
Wild cleverly chisels out a tale of unlikely heroes (the stone lion) and unseemly characters (homeless youths, librarians and gargoyles). There is also the subtle persuasion that hope is determined by the passing of time as shown by the illustrations of swirling leaves, fleeing birds and umbrellas adrift.
The magnificent stone lion statue stationed outside the library dreams of a life more animated if only so he can ‘pounce and prowl and leap’. But one fateful snowy night, he is forced to re-evaluate his own desires when a baby is abandoned at his paws.
Ritva Voutilda’s beautiful, muted pastel illustrations mirror both the stone lion’s cold forlorn heart and the kernel of hope that beats within us all. Miracles are easy to believe when they result in great change as The Stone Lion so ably demonstrates.
Using unadorned yet intensely sensitive language, Wild makes us feel something real for something which is unable to feel yet wants to in an incredible allegory about wanting more, accepting less and understanding the power of benevolence.
This is not a picture book brimming with rainbows and lollypops, and sunshine and happiness. But it does sing with a clear purity of heart that kindness is indeed its own reward. The Stone Lion is a picture book older readers will enjoy for its touching and profound celebration of humility.
It is truly exceptional.