Published by B&H Kids on March 2, 2021
Children love to feel empowered—even while reading books! So, when a narrator of a book comes along to warn the child not to turn another page, what will they do? This is the kind of adventure that Dandi Daley Mackall invites her readers into in There's a Lion in This Book! In this clever take on the Daniel in the lions’ den story, a narrator mouse continually warns the reader not to turn the page, lest they find what Daniel eventually found—terrifying, hungry lions! As this exciting and engaging story unfolds, children ages 4 to 8 will learn what actually happened to Daniel in the Bible while being thoroughly entertained in the process.
Back in the day, there was a famous Sesame Street book called The Monster at the End of This Book. Throughout the book, Grover grew increasingly more upset and frantic about the reader turning the pages and getting inevitably closer to the end of the book. It has a surprise ending—one I won’t spoil even though the book celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It was the first book that a young me can ever remember being interactive, speaking directly to me, making me an active participant in the story.
There are Lions in this Book! takes the same plot device and wraps it around the story of Daniel. Wraps may be a bit of a stretch. Dandi Daley Mackall parallels the story of David with the doomsday warnings of a mouse that if you keep turning pages it will not end well—what with the lions and all. Daniel’s story is pretty straightforward: the king’s jealous advisers conspire to get Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. It’s a story that’s been adapted into children’s books time and time again and this one is just okay. There’s nothing about it that really stands out.
The draw of the book is the interactive element as the mouse implores readers not to turn the page. However, with the high standard set with Sesame Street’s classic, Mackall’s Daniel retelling falls a bit short. She’s understood the interactive element, but failed to weave it in to the overall story. In The Monster at the End of This Book, the story is about the page-turning. In There are Lions in this Book!, you could ignore the mouse entirely and the story would still make sense. The storylines parallel, they never integrate.
There’s also the fact that in The Monster at the End of This Book, you have Grover’s protestations building up to a final, dramatic climax. The monster is at the end of the book. In There are Lions in this Book!, you understand it from the title…the lions aren’t just at the end. The lions aren’t the end of the story. They actually come in around halfway through. The page where Daniel is thrown into the den should be the book’s climax. Instead, our mouse friend is very underwhelming. “Yikes! Can’t you see? There are lions in this book. Surely you can’t keep going!”
That result creates a book that has two very different tones. You have a straightforward, dramatic Bible story and you have an over-the-top cartoonish breakdown. The mouse’s dialogue isn’t that engaging or great, it doesn’t evoke the emotional response that’s needed to elicit a reaction out of young readers. It’s a fun concept, but the implementation lacks passion. Even the illustrations of the mouse trying to prevent the page-turning are a bit anemic because there seems to be an unwillingness to overshadow the biblical retelling.
The illustrations are colorful and engaging. The story of Daniel is true to the biblical narrative. But what’s supposed to be the book’s selling point falters and doesn’t fully commit to its own schtick. Maybe it’s not fair of me to compare it with a classic, but I don’t know how I couldn’t. This book tries to be a Christian version of that and, by that account, doesn’t meet the high bar it set for itself.