Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 04 Jul 2024

LIONEL by Lo Cole

I am lucky enough to own hundreds of children’s books about various animals, but have none with a rhinoceros as the central character. I wonder why this impressive animal has not been as popular as the hippo or the elephant? Perhaps he is just too fierce looking? So, when this one arrived for review – I was suitably delighted as I had very much enjoyed Doris, the previous picture book by this author/illustrator. 

The cover shows the same distinctive design features with Lionel the Rhino placed at the centre looking out sideways at the reader. This time, blue is the colour chosen to depict the animal and the bold title with other colours used as a frame depicting an intriguing selection of instruments. When I looked at this with a three-year-old friend, he suggested that might mean that Lionel liked listening to music. 

I am a big fan of illustrations that don’t quite fit the page and was pleased to see that Lionel is so big that he needs a double page spread to establish his size. I also like illustrators that cleverly entice the reader onto the following page by providing suggestions. In this way we were encouraged to guess what was making the traffic like noises and rewarded with another busy double page spread with ‘Lionel’s bird-friends whizzing about in cars, trucks and buses’. Surely the big rhinoceros wasn’t going to try fitting into one of the already crowded vehicles? On the turn of the page we were shocked to see him squashing the bus flat with the birds flying to the edges of the pages!    

As the story unfolds we realised that he is a very enthusiastic animal who loves to join in with whatever his friends are doing but, he is so huge, rather clumsy and prone to disaster. These difficulties continue with him trying to sing along with the mice playing their instruments, but drowning them out with his noise. Next, he tries his best to help his dog and cat friends with their baking activities. This time he causes such chaos that he pokes a real hole through the page of the book as he is making bagels: ‘He’s even RUINED his own book!’

Poor Lionel is pretty fed up at this point but I won’t spoil how he and his friends find a way to include him and to use his obvious advantages for the benefit of everybody. He also finds out that he is not the biggest creature in the world by any means.

We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Lionel and trying to understand his frustration at not quite fitting in with his friends’ activities. I look forward to sharing this story with other young children who I am sure will be inspired to create their own pictures using strong colours and shapes. There will also be lots of scope for talking about problem solving, being careful and being considerate about others.

I strongly recommend this splendid picture book published by Rocket Bird Books which should be available from your local independent bookshop  or directly from the website 


Karen Argent

July 2004